THE SHAKESPEARE IDENTITY PROBLEM

CHAPTER 5: WILLS


We have the last will and testament of William Shaxper of Stratford on Avon. To put it in context, we know he was a sharer in 1599 in the rebuilt Globe Playhouse with 6 others: Richard and Cuthbert Burbage, Henry Condell, John Heminges, Augustine Phillips and Will Kempe. Apparently Henry Condell replaced Thomas Pope and Robert Armin replaced Will Kempe. Let's start by looking at the wills that have survived of those other sharers.

First it should be mentioned that the wills average 3 or 4 pages of small print, so we'll summarize the main aspects of each.

We begin with Robert Armin, goldsmith, pamphleteer, dramatist, and clown actor. Richard Tarlton was the greatest comic or clown, of his day. He owned a tavern which he leased to a man named Charles. This man owed money to a master goldsmith whose apprentice was a young Robert Armin, sent from time to time to collect money due. Charles gradually slipped into arrears. Armin chalked up on a wall in the tavern some verses which ended:

Indeed, Charles the great before,
But now Charles the less, being poor.

Tarlton saw this and chalked up some lines beside it, ending,

My adopted son therefore be,
To enjoy my clown's suit after me.

And that, it's said, is how Robert Armin's transformation began from goldsmith to playhouse clown.

Robert Armin was a sharer in the Globe in 1599. He died at age 47. He replaced Will Kempe as their leading comic actor until about 1610. He published two books under a pseudonym, a book of ballads and a play.

There is an unusually long preamble to his will, in the printed version comprising almost a full page of small type. The bequests begin (using modernized spelling):

I, Robert Armin, citizen and goldsmith of London, the unprofitable servant of Almighty God, ...

First I give and bequeath unto my brother John Armin citizen and merchant tailor of London my seal ring of gold with my Arms on it,

Item, I give ... to my said brother's son Robert Armin a piece of gold or Iacobus of 22/-

Item, I give ... to my sister Tabatha my old cloak

Item, I give... to Robert Treate citizen and goldsmith of London, and to George Blundervell citizen and upholster of London 11/- apiece in remembrance of love unto them

Item, all the rest of my said worldly substance whatsoever it be, my debts being paid and funeral discharged I fully and wholly bequeath unto my said loving wife Alice Armin whom I do make and ordain my full and sole executrix of this my last will...

Item, I earnestly request and desire the said Robert Treate and George Blundervell to be the supervisors of this my last will... requesting them to aid and assist my said executrix... if need shall arise in witness whereof I have hereunto put my hand and seal....(1614) containing two sheets of paper... Robart Armyn

Published the day and year above written & the same read to the testator by me John Warner, scrivener, and the same sealed and subscribed by the said testator in the presence of

(two witnesses plus the scrivener)

Notes endorsed on the will give the parish of origin as St. Botolph without Aldgate; exhibition and valuation of inventory at £160-13-2.

He died in 1615. It appears he had no living children. There is no mention of a gift to the poor, which is standard procedure in the other wills we'll look at, and his gifts to his will overseers or supervisors are very small. There is no mention of a sharer's interest in any playhouse. This is not the will of a wealthy man.

(I have replaced the formula 'I give and bequeath unto' with 'to', and used the numeric for sums spelled out in words e.g. 40/- for 'forty shillings.')

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Next, Richard Burbage, the most famous and highly regarded actor of his day. Apparently he died rather suddenly, in 1618 on March 13, and made his noncupative, or oral, will in the presence of seven relatives and friends:

Memorandum on that Friday the 12th of March, 1618, Richard Burbage of the Parish of St. Leonard, Shoreditch ....being sick in body but of good and perfect remembrance did make his last will and testament noncupative....viz.... he .... did nominate and appoint his well-beloved wife, Winifride Burbage to be sole executrix of all his goods and chattels whatsoever, in the presence of the persons undernamed:

Cuthbert Burbage, brother to the testator, the mark X of Elizabeth his wife (3 more men and 2 more women are listed, one female marks with an X.)

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Cuthbert Burbage seems never to have been mentioned anywhere as an actor. There was a "distinguished" bookseller called Cuthbert Burby whose name is often found at the foot of title pages. He was also the publisher in 1598 of Shakespeare's Love's Labour's Lost and the authentic edition of Romeo and Juliet in 1599 printed to supersede the spurious copy of 1597 but there are no other connections apparently with Shakespeare's works. Cuthbert's will may be extant but I have yet to find it and access it.

In 1633, three years before Cuthbert's death, the city of London made a serious effort to buy the property containing the Blackfriars playhouse. There were sometimes near riots at playhouses, the performances could be noisy (it was a cannon firing that set fire to the Globe in 1613) attracted undesirable crowds (the groundlings or stinkards) into residential neighbourhoods, and the city council was apparently Puritan in sympathy. When the Puritans obtained power under Oliver Cromwell, all the playhouses were closed, permanently, during their rule. But this 1633 negotiation is helpful to us. We find the Burbages (William son of Richard, and Cuthbert) received a rent of £50 per year from the company for the use of the Blackfriars property. This they valued at 14 years' purchase and so claimed £700 as the value. They were the owners of 4 adjacent tenements let at a rental of £75 a year, and a 'void piece of ground' to turn coaches in which they estimated at £6 a year; these two items at 14 years' purchase were said to be worth £1,134 making their price for the whole property £1,834.

I think a stock market analyst today would, depending on the position in the business cycle, regard a price/earnings ratio of 14 times as reasonable. In effect it's another way of saying an approximate 7% return on investment is expected.

Being a former monastery, and no doubt built with the finest stone materials this would be a very different and much more expensive construction than the wood frame building of the outdoor Globe playhouse.

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Next, the will of Henry Condell (abridged):

In the name of God, Amen, I Henry Cundall, of London, gentleman, being sick in body but of perfect mind and memory, laud and praise be therefore given to Almighty God....My body I commit to the earth, to be decently buried in the right time....My worldly substance I dispose of as followeth....

I give devise and bequeath all and singular my freehold messuages, lands, tenements, and hereditaments whatsoever, with their and every of their appurtenances, situate ....in ........the Strand and elsewhere, in the County of Middlesex, unto Elizabeth,, my well beloved wife, for and during the material term of her life, and from ..........her demise, unto my son Henry Cundall, and to the heirs of his body lawfully to be begotten, and for want of such issue, unto my son William Cundall....and for default of such issue .... unto my daughter Elizabeth Finch, and to her heirs and assigns for ever.

Item, I give.... all .... my freehold messuages, lands....whatsoever...... in the parish of St. Bride....near Fleet Street, London, and elsewhere in the City of London, and the suburbs thereof, unto my beloved wife Elizabeth Cundall.....And as concerning all and singular my goods, chattels, plate, household stuff, ready money, debts, and personal estate, whatsoever and wherever as followeth: viz.

Item I do make.... my said well beloved wife, Elizabeth Cundall the full and sole executrix of this my last will...and I do earnestly desire my very loving friends John Heminges, gentleman, Cuthbert Burbage, gentleman, my son-in-law Herbert Finch and Peter Saunderson, grocer, to be my overseers and to be aiding and assisting unto my said executrix in the execution and performance of this my last will and testament. And I give and bequeath to every of my said 4 overseers the sum of five pounds apiece.

Item, I give and bequeath to my said son William Cundall, all the clear yearly rents and profits....of and by my leases and terms of years of all my messuages houses and places situate in the Blackfriars, London, and at the Bankside in the County of Surrey until such time that the full sum of three hundred pounds by those rents and profits may be raised for a stock for my said son William if he shall so long live.

Item, for as much as I have by this my will dealt very bountifully with my well beloved wife, Elizabeth Cundall considering my estate, I do give....unto my son Henry Cundall for his maintenance either at University or elsewhere, one annuity ... of 30 pounds --- during all the term of the material life of the said Elizabeth my wife, if my son Henry shall so long live, .....(to be paid quarterly).

Item, I give and bequeath unto widow Martin and widow Gimber ....during....their lives, .....if my leases....in my houses in Aldermanbury in London shall so long continue....one annuity or yearly sum of 20/- apiece by even portions quarterly.

Item, I give...unto the poor people of the parish of Fulham....where I now dwell, the sum of five pounds....to be paid to....and....by them distributed.

Item. I give unto my said well beloved wife....and....my daughter Elizabeth Finch, all my household stuff, bedding, linen, brass and pewter, whatsoever....at my house in Fulham....as also in my house in Aldermanbury, in London....equally divided.... and for more equal dealing....I request....my said overseers....to make division thereof, and then my wife to have the preferment of the choice.

Item. I give....my cousin....my aunt's daughter....the sum of 5 pounds and the daughter of the said....the like sum of five pounds.

Item. I give....unto such....of the daughters of my cousin Gilder, of....in the county of Norfolk....deceased, as shall be living at the time of my decease, the sum of two pounds apiece.

Item. I give...my old servant Elizabeth Wheaton, a morning gown, and 40/- in money, and that place or privilege which she now.... enjoyeth....in the house of the Blackfriars, London, and the Globe on the Bankside, for and during the term of her natural life, and to the daughter of the said Elizabeth Wheaton....the sum of five pounds.

Item. I give....all the rest....of my goods, chattels, leases, money.....whatsoever and wheresoever....unto my said well beloved wife, Elizabeth Cundall.

Item. My will and mind is.....that all such legacies, gifts....shall be well and truly paid.....within the space of one year next after my decease.

Finally I do ....revoke....all former wills....

In witness whereof I, the said Henry Cundall the testator to this my present last will....being written on 9 sheets of paper with my name subscribed to every sheet have set my seal, the 15th day of December, in the 3rd year of the reign of our Sovereign Lord Charles, by the grace of God King of England,.....(witnessed by a notary public and his assistant).

This will of Condell gives everything to his wife with a few very minor exceptions, the £300 to his eldest son to come from future rents and £20 a year to the younger son. It's apparent he has 2 houses for the family and property and interests at Blackfriars and Bankside. But we don't know his net worth and can't calculate it from the way the will is drawn up, which appears to be in good standard form for those times. He also has two of the seven sharers in the 1599 rebuilt Globe as overseers of his will, Cuthbert Burbage and John Heminges. It's said he was the son of a fishmonger and that when age 20 he married a wealthy heiress and so himself became wealthy and was worth 'many thousands of pounds.' The will suggests that may be an exaggeration, particularly as his cash payments to outsiders are quite stingy, but as he apparently owns two properties outright plus the theatre sharer (lease) interests, his net assets could total £1,000. If that is so, it should be noted that he came by part of this amount through marriage and not the theatre business.

Fortunately for us, about the year 1608 an estimate was made of the interests of the different parties concerned in the Blackfriars theatre in a document still preserved which indicates that the receipts were divided into 20 shares, and that John Lewin, an actor, was the owner of a share and a half, and this was valued at £350. In round numbers for 1600 this would be about £230 a share. But we don't know whether Condell owned more than one share. The best we can do is say if the shares of the outdoor Globe and indoor Blackfriars were at all comparable in value, and if he only had one share in each as a minimum, his equity for both would be about £460 - £500. At 7%, based on the purchase price for the Blackfriars noted above, the yearly income from these shares would be about £35.

The fact that Condell had a grocer as one of the overseers of his will comes as no real surprise. When Philip Henslowe was signing contracts regarding the construction and operation of the Rose playhouse, one of these still surviving was with John Cholmley, grocer. We came across a reference to catering provisions for patrons at the Globe in chapter 4. This is a significant part of the income of entertainment centres down to the present time. In the 1990s in Toronto, Canada, there was outrage among the patrons at the Skydome for the exorbitant cost of snacks charged by the holders of the catering contract there.

Alexander Cooke, another actor in Shakespeare's plays, wrote his will himself. He gave each of his children £50 which he kept in a purse in a cupboard, and to an unborn child £50 more which was in the possession of his 'fellows' the members of the King's company of players 'as his share of the stock'. He asked Heminges, Condell and Francis Caper to take these moneys into their hands that they might be lodged in Grocers' Hall (of which Heminges was a member) for safekeeping. So now we seem to have a share of subscribed 'stock' of £50. in a company of players, not in a playhouse.

I suggest none of this additional information affects materially my best estimate of Condell's net worth as probably £1,000 or less, some of which, perhaps half, came from his wife's family wealth.

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The next will we'll consider is that of John Heminges:

In the name of God, Amen.... I, John Heminge, citizen and grocer of London.... First and principally, I give and bequeath my soul into the hands of Almighty God....and my body.....to be buried in.....the parish church of Mary Aldermanbury, in London, as near unto my loving wife, Rebecca Heminge, who lieth interred....

To summarize: he goes on to say he wants his executor to pay all his debts and sell his assets as necessary to do this....(all my leases, goods, chattels, plate and household stuff whatsoever) and if this doesn't pay all the debts "then one half the yearly benefit and profit of the several parts which I have by lease in the several playhouses of the Globe and Blackfriars be" received by my executor and used to pay down the debts until paid off, and if half the proceeds aren't sufficient, then the executor can use all the receipts from the leases to pay the debts off, and once all these debts are paid off, then the lease receipts are to be used to fund the legacies as follows:

Item, To my daughter Rebecca Smith now wife of Captain William Smith my best suit of linen ... and to her husband his wife's picture set up in a frame in my home.

Item, to my daughter Margaret Sheppard wife of Mr. Thomas Sheppard my red cushions........(and so on)... for daughters Elizabeth, Merefield

Item, to the children of Rebecca and Margaret 50/- each

Item, to my grandchild Richard Atkins £5 to buy books, ...

Item, to my son-in-law John Atkins and his now wife, if they shall be living with me at the time of my decease, 40/- to make them two rings, in remembrance of me.

Item, to every of my fellows and sharers, his majesty's servants, which shall be living at the time of my decease, the sum of 10/- apiece, to make them rings in remembrance of me.

Item, to John Rice, clerk, of St. Saviour's in Southwark, (if he shall be living at the time of my decease) 20/- for a remembrance of my love to him.

Item, to the poor of the parish of St. Mary, Aldermanbury... 40/- ... where most need shall be.

There follows a whole page of small print instructions, debts to be paid before legacies, and so on, including this:

...be raised and taken out of the yearly profits and benefit which shall arise or be made by my several parts and shares in the several playhouses called the Globe and Blackfriar's ....And for the better performance thereof, my will, mind and desire is that my said parts in the said playhouses should be employed in playing, the better to raise profit thereby, as formerly the same have been, and have yielded good yearly profit, as by my books will in that behalf appear...

... and I...make my son William Heminge to be the executor...

...and appoint my loving friends Mr. Burbadge and Mr. Rice to be the overseers of this my last will...

He doesn't say which Burbage, Richard or Cuthbert, both sharers, and doesn't identify which Rice; there was another John Rice, besides the minister of St. Saviour's, and he was a player at the Globe.

This will is drawn in 1630 in the reign of King Charles. Heminges, a widower, seems to have been concerned with debts to be paid off, and had nothing to pass on to the younger generation of any substantial value, except the business property leases, he doesn't say when they expire and we don't know if he just rented a tenement or house to live in, or owned one; perhaps not owned, as not mentioned. His net worth seems to be very small as his debts may almost equal his assets, apart from the two playhouse lease interests. Apparently he had two shares in the Blackfriars at about 1608. Assuming he still had both at death and one, say in the Globe, if of about the same value, this is 3 x £230 or £690, let's say about £750 in all. His yearly income from the theatre shares at 7% would be about £49. Some of this would presumably have come from his activity as a grocer, which would have helped his being a sharer in the playhouses. But the will shows no identifiable source of income arising from his being a grocer. He probably at least had a hand in managing the catering for two playhouses which had not left time or opportunity for a separate grocery business.

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Will Kempe, also a Globe sharer, a clown, famous in his day, travelled widely in England and on the continent. But he seems not to have built up a reserve of investments and apparently it's not even known where and when he died. He left the Globe group about 1599.

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Next let's look at the will of Augustine Phillips. He was chiefly a music performer. Later in his career, in the petition of the players of the Blackfriars to the Privy Council in 1596 in favour of continuing performances at that private theatre (which some local residents had petitioned against) the name of Augustine Phillips comes 4th after Pope, Burbage, and Herminges, and before Shakespeare, Kemp, Sly and Tooley. In the patent granted by King James in May 1603, Phillip's name is also 4th, after Fletcher, Shakespeare and Burbage, and before Heminges, Condell, Sly, Armin and Cowley. Phillips moved about in rented accommodation in Southwark. In 1604 he moved with his family to Mortlake in Surrey and there bought a house. His will is dated May 4, 1605, and his will was proved by his widow and executrix on May 13, 1605.

The will was prepared on two sheets of paper, in different handwritings. Only one was signed by Phillips.

His will divided his estate (with one exception) after debts into three equal parts: one for his wife, also executrix, provided she didn't remarry in which case she was to forfeit all claim under the will and not meddle with it; and John Heminges, Richard Burbage and William Sly were to be his overseers and take over responsibility if she remarried (which she soon after did). A second third of the estate was to go to his three eldest daughters and the last third to be used to pay bequests, legacies, etc. He designates his personal property with the usual formula "goods, chattels, plate, household stuff, jewels, ready money, ...." and does not mention any share in any theatres. Perhaps he disposed of that when he left London in poor health and used the proceeds to buy the property in Surrey. He left the "lately purchased" house and land at Mortlake in Surrey as the portion of his youngest daughter in lieu of any share in his estate. The legatees etc. are:

the poor of the Parish of Mortlake, £5

my loving Mother £5 every year during her lifetime

my brothers (2) £10 to either of them within 3 years

my sister £10 within one year

two sons of my (another) sister £10 a piece when they reach age 21 years

to Tymothy Whithorne £20

to the hired men of the company which I am of £5 to be distributed equally

to my fellows William Shakespeare, a 30/- piece in gold

Henry Condell a 30/- piece in gold

to my servant a 30/- piece in gold

to my fellowe Lawrence Fletcher 20/- in gold

Robert Armyne 20/- in gold

Richard Cowley 20/- in gold

Alexander Cook 20/- in gold

Nicholas Tooley 20/- in gold

to the preacher which shall preach at my funeral 20/-

to Samuel Gilbourne, my late apprentice, the sum of 40/- and my velvet hose...doublet....sute, cloke, sword, dagger and my base viall

to James Sands my apprentice 40/- and a citterne, a bandore and a lute, to be paid and delivered at the expiration of his term of years in his indenture of apprenticehood

and I bequeath unto the said John Heminge, Richard Burbage and William Slye my said overseers for their pains herein a bowl of silver of the value of £5 a piece

Signed, sealed and delivered A Phillips

(2 witnesses)

The cash appears to be £114.10.0 and this is said to be 1/3

So the total estate would be about £343.10.0 plus the value of the property at Mortlake, say, not more than £400 in all.

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The last will I'd like us to look at before considering William Shaxper's will is the will of Thomas Pope. He apparently played the parts of rural, country or rustic clowns. These performers, clowns, or fools, were a very important part of the playhouse plays. They kept the attention of the audience and enlivened the proceedings, but some of these actors had a tendency to wander about the stage once they got going and say far more than the part allotted to them.

Here's an abridgement of Pope's will:

In the name of God...22 July, 1603....I, Thomas Pope, of the parish of St. Saviour's, Southwark....gentleman...I give towards the setting up of some monument on me in the said church, and my funeral, the sum of twenty pounds.

Item, I give and bequeath to the poor of the liberty where now I dwell, three pounds.

Item, ....unto Susan Gasquine, whom I have brought up ever since she was born, the sum of one hundred pounds, of lawful money of England, and all my household stuff, my plate only excepted.

Item, ...the said Susan Gasquine shall have the use and occupation of all that house or tenement wherein I now dwell...during her natural life, if the lease and term of years which I have in the same shall so long continue and endure, so as the said Susan, or her assigns, do pay the one half of the rent reserved by the lease to me.....

The will goes on to say if she dies before the lease expires, then his brother John Pope can take over on the same terms.

It transpires that this lease covers "the tenement adjoining to the east side of my said dwelling house wherein John Moden now dwelleth" and his interest in this is willed to John Pope provided he reserves and pays half the rent and enters into a bond of a reasonable sum of money to his executors "for payment of the said moiety"...

He then wills to Mary Clarke, alias Wood,

"all that tenement adjoining to the west side of my said dwelling house, wherein John Holland now dwelleth for and during the continuance of the term of years which I have in the same.. by force or virtue of the said lease to me by the said Francis Langley....and after her decease....unto Thomas Bromley who was ..baptised in...."

He then wills to Mary Clarke and Thomas Bromley,

"all my part, right, title, and interest which I have, or ought to have, of, in, and to all that playhouse, with the appurtenances, called the Curtain.... and .... that playhouse....called the Globe..."

Next he wills £50 to Thomas Bromley and his chain of gold valued at £30-10-0 when he becomes 21, in care of his mother until then, and if he dies before that, then to Mary Clarke...And to Mary Clarke £50 more, but to go to Thomas Bromley if she dies before him. He gives his mother, Agnes Web £20, and his brother John Pope £20, and his brother William Pope £20. To the children of these brothers £10 to be distributed evenly.

To Robert Gough and John Edmans all his wearing apparel and arms, equally divided.

To his cousin Thomas Owen £5 .

To his loving friend John Jackson one ring, with a square diamond in it.

To Marie Clarke and Susan Gasquine half each of his plate

To Dorothea Clarke, sister to Marie, one gold ring with 5 opals in it, all the rest of his rings to "good wife Willingson, who is now the keeper of my house."

To his loving friend Basell Nicholl, scrivener, £5 , and to his neighbour and friend John Wrench £5.

And the residue of all his goods rights and chattels not bequeathed, his debts and funeral charge first paid, he wills to his mother, brothers and their children, to be divided equally...Basell Nicholl and John Wrench to be executors...

"and for because much of this money is out upon bonds, I do limit, for the performance of this my will, six months...

Signed and sealed in the presence of John Wrench and John Edmans.

Robert Gough

John Edmans

These two witnesses were both players. His cash bequests total £338-10, plus interests in the Curtain and Globe and some rings and plate. If we use the Blackfriars valuation as a guide to the worth of his theatre interests in the Curtain and the Globe, which unfortunately we can't value, and assume he held only one share in each, his net assets seem to be about £340 + £230 + £230 = £800. His yearly income from his playhouse shares at 7% would be close to £35.

With this information on the wills of six sharers, the seventh one apparently dying in poor circumstances and intestate (Will Kempe), we can now better evaluate the will of William Shaxper of Stratford on Avon. There are web sites that will give you the whole will, but for our purposes an abridgement will do. It begins in the usual way (words lined out are in brackets, intercalations (additions) in another hand writing are in quotes, and for brevity I have used £ instead of pound, and modern numerals instead of Roman L for 50 and C for 100:

In the name of God, Amen. I, William Shackspeare of Stratford upon Avon....in perfect health and memorie God be praysed, do make....this my last will and testament....I commend my soule unto the hands of God my Creator....

Item, I give....unto my (sonne and) daughter Judyth £150 ..... in the manner £100 "in discharge of her marriage porcun" within one year....with consideration after the rate of 2/- in the £ for so long tyme as the same shall be unpaid unto her after my decease and the £50 residue thereof upon her .....giving such sufficient security as the overseers of this my will shall like....to surrender or grant all her estate and right that shall descend ....unto her after my decease or "that she" now hath, of, in, or to, one copyhold tenement with the appurtenances....being in Stratford upon Avon being parcel..... of the manor of Rowington, unto my daughter Susanna Hall and her heirs forever.

Item, I give....unto....Judith £150 more, if she or any issue of her body be living at the end of three years next ensuring.....the date of this my will during which time my executors are to pay her consideration from my decease according to the rate aforesaid and if she die within the said term without issue....then I give.....£100 to my niece Elizabeth Hall and the £50 to be set forth by my executors during the life of my sister Joane Harte and the use and profit thereof....shall be paid to my sister Joane and after her decease the said £50 shall remain among the children of my said sister equally to be divided amongst them, but if my said daughter Judith be living at the end of the said three years or any issue of her body, then.....the said £150 to be set over "by my executors and overseers" for the best benefit of her and her issue and the "stock" not "to be" paid to her so long as she be married and covert baron (By my executors and overseers) but ....she shall have the consideration yearly paid to her during her life and the said stock and consideration to be paid to her children if she have any, and if not, to her executors and assigns, she living the said time after my decease. Provided that if such husband as she shall at the end of the said three years be married to, or at any time after does sufficiently assure to her and the issue of her body, lands answerable to the portion of this my will give to her, and to be adjudged so by my executors and overseers, then..... the said £150 shall be paid to such husband.....to his own use.

Item, I give....unto my said sister Jane £20 and all my wearing apparel to be paid and delivered within one year after my decease and I....will to her "the house" with the appurtenances in Stratford, wherein she dwelleth, for her natural life, under the yearly rent of xij.d

Item, I give....to her three sons William Harte --- Hart and Michael Harte £5 a piece (to be set out for her within one year after my decease by my executors....for her best profit, until her marriage, and then the same with the increase thereof to be paid to her)

Item, I give....(her) "the said Elizabeth Hall" all my plate "except my broad silver and gilt bowl" that I now have.....

Item, I give unto the poor of Stratford £10, to Mr. Thomas Combe my sword, to Thomas Russell esquire £5 and to Francis Collins.....gentleman, £13-6-8 to be paid within one year of my decease

Item, I give to Mr. Richard Tyler the Elder "Hamlett Sadler" xxvj.s viij.d (26/8) to buy him a ring to "William Reynolds, gent., xxvj.s.viij.d to buy him a ring "to my godson William Walker xxs. In gold; to Anthony Nashe, gent. xxvj.s.viij.d (in gold); "and to my fellowes John Hemynges, Richard Burbage and Henry Cundell xxvj.s.viij.d. a piece to buy them ringes".

Item, I give....unto my daughter Susanna Hall "for better enabling of her to perform this my will and towards the performance thereof" all that capital messuage or tenement with the appurtenances "in Stratford aforesaid" called New Place wherein I now dwell, and two messuages or tenements with the appurtenances.....in Henley Street .....Stratford aforesaid, and all my barns, stables, orchards, gardens, lands, tenements and hereditaments.....within the towns, hamlets, villages, fields and grounds, of Stratford upon Avon, OldStratford, Bushopton and Welcombe.....And also all.....that tenement....wherever one John Robinson dwelleth....being in the Blackfriars in London near the Wardrobe, and all my other lands, tenements.....whatsoever, to have and to hold.....the said premises......unto the said Susanna Hall.....her life, and after her decease, to the ......first sonn of her body and to the heirs male of the body of the said first son lawfully issuing, and for default of such issue, to the second son....and for default....third, fourth (son) fifth, sixth and seventh sons.....one after another, and to the heirs males.....of the said fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh sons....and for default of such issue to my daughter Judith and the heirs male of her body lawfully issuing and for default.....to the right heirs of me the said William Shackspeare for ever.

Item, "I give unto my wife my second best bed with the furniture"

Item, I give....to my said daughter Judith my broad silver gilt bowl. All the rest of my goods, chattels, leases, plate, jewels and household stuff whatsoever, after my debts and legacies paid, and my funeral expenses discharged, I give to my son in law, John Hall , gent, and my daughter Susanna his wief, whom I......make executors of this my last will and testament. And I .....appoint "the said" Thomas Russell, esquire and Francis Collins, gent. to be overseers hereof and publish this to be my last will and testament, in witness whereof I have hereunto put my (seale) "hand" the day and year first above written.

Witness to the publishing hereof Fra: Collyns, Julyus Shawe, John Robinson, Hamnet Sudler Robert Whattcott

By me William Shakespeare

The 2/- in the £ of interest (20/- to the £) is a rate of 10% -- the maximum legally allowable. In 1552 an Act of Parliament prohibited all taking of interest as "a vice most odious and detestable", but in 1571 this was repealed and interest not exceeding 10% ceased to be a criminal offence.

Roman numerals are found in some wills of the time. But the other wills we looked at were drawn in London, using modern notation, while this Warwickshire will is using older notation. The second reference to the formula is CL.Li.13 which, as c is the Roman Numeral for 100 and L for 50, means £150 plus the smaller notation. I have ignored these additional notations and shown the £s only.

'Stock' is presently what we would call 'capital', as distinct from the interest on it.

The 6/8d tacked on to some legacies is 1/3 of £1. The currency included a 'noble' which was worth 6/8d.

This is a very businesslike will. It's the only one of the group that specifies interest. The three fellow sharers who get rings paid for are all actors, but not clowns or musicians. They are included as part of the intercalations (inserted additions) to the will, in a different handwriting, we're told. I have only seen printed versions. No one that I have read has thought to tell us whether these intercalations were initialled by the testator, as they should have been. This is frustrating because those who have seen the original will should give us all the detail they can. (But see Note 1 to this chapter).

We can come closer to getting a net worth for Mr. Shaksper. His cash bequests total £150 + 150+ 20 +3 x 5 +10+5+£13-6-8 + 26/8 + 26/8 + 20/ + 26/8 + 26/8 X 3 = £372-6-8 by my calculations. In addition to this he gives Susanna New Place (which we know cost him £60) plus two tenements in Henley St, Stratford, and property in Stratford and three other places in Warwickshire plus one in Blackfriars, London.

His share in the playhouses is not mentioned and so may have been disposed of before his death.

We know he spent £440 buying tithes at Stratford. It looks as though his net worth would be £1,000 or perhaps a little more.

It seems to me that precision and clarity distinguishes this from the other wills we have seen. They were the wills of artistic people; Richard Burbage not even having a written will, Will Kemp having apparently lost all his money and dying in obscurity.

My conclusion is that Shaxper was a businessman, not an artist. Even at the Earl of Rutland's castle Burbage did the painting and framing, William Shaxper did some unspecified work. William Shaxper spent some years among actors and I suggest joined to make money. It was far more profitable than anything he could do in Stratford on Avon. But once he had money he returned to Stratford on Avon where he dealt in grain, malt, stone, became a landlord and loaned money for interest, probably at 10% (from the evidence in the will).

He must have played some acting parts, but his Warwickshire accent would have been a handicap in London, and his poor writing skill suggests he would have had trouble mastering a major role in a play. The Nicholas Rowe story of his greatest part being the ghost in Hamlet may have some element of truth. But he must have been helpful to the other sharers because of his business sense and experience. Cash was flowing daily into the theatre and someone trustworthy had to account for it, parcel it out, pay the wages, rents and so on. It may be that this was where Will Shaxper came into his own.

Nothing that we have come across so far has linked William Shaxper to the long narrative poems and 36 or so plays generally attributed to William Shakespeare. This confirms my original conclusion that they were not Shaxpers, because he was physically incapable of writing them owing to lack of writing ability.

This does not mean that Shaxper was an incompetent peasant. To the contrary, his life pattern indicates a shrewd, competent businessman, who, as soon as he had money, aspired to be called gentleman. But none of this makes him the poet/dramatist of extraordinary ability, not only the greatest of his age, but the greatest the world has ever known.

When I began my own personal investigation of the Shakespeare identity problem I had a neutral position, and expected to go through arduous research to determine whether the Stratford on Avon Shakespeare was the poet/dramatist. I was amazed to find, so quickly, using my considerable experience with signatures and documents, that Shaxper could not write fluently, and so since there was no other practical way for him to express his ideas as a writer in those days, he could not be the poet/dramatist. After that early discovery I have pursued a struggle through such meagre documentary evidence as there apparently is, to see if there was some way in which his claim to be a great writer could be otherwise supported, but we have found nothing to endorse this claim.

To summarize our conclusions regarding what the wills of these various sharers at the Globe in Shaxper's time tell us about their financial condition at death, we have:

NAME

ESTIMATED NET WORTH (in £)

Robert Armin
161
Richard Burbage
?
Henry Condell
1,000
John Heminge
750
Will Kempe
?
Augustine Phillips
400
Thomas Pope
800
William Shaxper
+1,000

Henry Condell was wealthy through his wife's family. John Heminge probably had some net worth through his activity as a grocer. Thomas Pope was eminent as a professional clown. His name heads the list of 8 petitioners to the Privy Council in 1596. regarding the Blackfriars theatre.

William Shaxper as we have shown, was not a top level performer as an actor. But if you are a 'sharer' or partner, and an actor is sick, or drunk, or just does not turn up for work, you have to try to step in and play his part, or shift the parts so that another more skilful actor can take the absentee's place, and you can take the substitute's lesser part. I suggest this was not Shaxper's primary role. His main interest in the theatre seems to have been monetary, and much of his estate seems to have come from trading, possibly endowed by a substantial payment from Southampton.

Now we can leave this world of playhouses and actors, the people who repeated on stage what the poet/dramatists wrote for them, and begin our search to find if we can who this great, world famous and remarkable writer was among the Elizabethans.


NOTE 1

Thanks to an emailed suggestion, since writing this chapter I have read Charles Hamilton's book In Search of Shakespeare (Harcourt Brace Tovanovich, N.Y. 1985) which provides images of each page of the original manuscript will.

This shows that none of the various intercalations are signed or initialled by the testator and therefore there is no evidence that they were entered before the testator signed each page in the presence of the four witnesses who countersigned the will.

The manuscript will itself is said to have been discovered in the eighteenth century.

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