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Interlude - Arms, Crest, Bard

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It would be appropriate in this "break" between the history of the Warwickshire and Staffordshire Ardens to inject a diversion, which although not directly related to the Arden family history, is a good story embracing an interesting mixture of heraldry, passionate debate, and persistent detective work!

Among the major debates which have stimulated volumes of Shakespeareana, such as
did Shakespeare really write Shakespeare,
how did Shakespeare really spell his name,
is the question of
whether Mary Arden (1539-1608), the mother of William Shakespeare (1564-1616), was related to the Warwickshire Ardens
who have been the subject of the first five chapters of this family history.

As seen from Chart V, Mary Arden was the youngest daughter and seventh child of Robert Arden (1501-1586) who lived on a manor at Wilmcote, in Aston Cantlow parish in Warwickshire, some 3½ miles from Stratford-on-Avon. She married John Shakespeare (1530-1601), the son of Richard Shakespeare (1546-1616), who was a tenant farmer of Robert Arden on properties which he owned at Snitterfield, some 5 miles from Stratford. Robert Arden's father, also of Wilmcote, was Thomas Arden. The question, simply posed, is whether this Thomas Arden was a son of XII Walter Arden (1450-1502), and a brother of XIII Sir John Arden (d.1526), both of Park Hall, Castle

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Bromwich, Warwickshire, whose biographies have been set forth in the preceeding chapter. The wills of both Walter 1/ and Sir John 2/ mention a Thomas Arden as a son, and brother, respectively. If the Thomas Arden therein mentioned moved to Wilmcote, then Mary Arden was related to the Warwickshire Ardens and can claim the lineage back to Turchill. If he did not, then Mary's grandfather must remain unknown and her genealogy stops there.

The debate can best be categorized as proceeding from three different standards of judgment.

First, there are the agnostics. They view the whole matter as an effort to give an unwarranted (and, in terms of his genius, thoroughly unnecessary) "status" to Shakespeare. To them Mary Arden's father, Robert, was merely a humble Warwickshire farmer with no relationship whatever to the prominent Arden family of Park Hall. Typical of these is Halliwell-Phillips who says:

"Robert Arden was a farmer and nothing more. Mary occasionally assisted in the more robust occupations of the field. Their existence was rather after the manner of pigs than of human beings. " Outlines of the Life of Shakespeare, (1898).

Second, there are the romanticists. They are frustrated in being unable (as no one yet has) to trace Shakespeare's paternal ancestry beyond 

"Item, I will that my sonne Thomas having during his life x marc, which I have given him. " Will of XIII Walter Arden, July 21, 1502."

"Item, I will that my brothers Thomas, Martin & Robert have their fees during their lives. " Will of XIV Sir John Arden, June 4, 1526."

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his grandfather, tenant farmer Richard. Accordingly, they move heaven and earth (and facts) to establish a tie-in between Mary Arden and the "splendid pedigree" of the Warwickshire Ardens. Furthermore, they are positively furious at anyone who would be so audacious and irreverent as to claim that Turchill's blood did not flow in the veins of the Poet, and that Robert Arden was not a scion of the prominent family of Park Hall! Typical of this approach is J. Pym Yeatman who, in commenting upon the Halliwell-Phillips quote above, said:
"And that magnificant pig-driver Halliwell-Phillips assumes to himself the control of all thoughts upon the matter! Forbid it ye Gods! Such a groveller is not worthy to write about a beautiful girl of a noble family, the beloved mother of the finest poet who ever lived in the world. " The Gentle Shakespeare (1911).

Third, there are the many sober analysts who weigh the evidence - which ultimately requires a judgment decision - and decide yea or nay. One of the most prominent of the Shakespeare biographers, Sir Sidney Lee, concludes thus:
"The chief branch of the Arden family was settled at Park Hall in the parish of Aurdworth near Birmingham and it ranked with the most influential in the country.
. . . John Shakespeare's wife belonged to a humble branch of the family and there is no trustworthy evidence to determine the exact degree of kinship between the two branches.
" A Life of William Shakespeare (1923).

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On the other hand, French, Stopes, Malone, Reese, and many others, including Burke's Landed Gentry (both in Pine's Introduction and in the Arden genealogy itself) reach the conclusion that the best evidence establishes that the Thomas of XII, Walter Arden's will, and the Thomas of Wilmcote, are the same.

We shall look at the evidence, pro and con, in a moment. Initially, however, it is necessary to engage into an excursion into heraldry and the Arden arms because, as will subsequently be seen, some "adjustments" made by the College of Heralds to the Shakespeare arms when John Shakespeare asked that the Arden arms be impaled thereon, is a critical piece of evidence involved in the whole story.

Arden Arms.

The novice to heraldry has to learn a whole new vocabulary to make sense out of any description of arms or a crest. To call colours like red, blue, and yellow by their simple names is far too mundane for heraldry, so they are known as "gules", "azure", and "or". White, with dashes of black, is, of course, nothing less than "ermine". And when it comes to the "charges" on the "field" (e. g. , the devices on the shield), one needs a heraldic dictionary which can run into volumes. A simple bar across the center of the shield is a "fess", and if it is divided into squares with alternating colors of, for example, blue and yellow, it becomes a "fess chequy azure et or". We have now described the Arden arms: "Ermine, fess chequy azure et or" - e.g., the shield is white, with dashes of black, with a bar across the middle containing alternating squares of blue and yellow!

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There is no real evidence that arms were in existence in England at the time of the Battle of Hastings in 1066 although subsequent heraldists appear to have retroactively ascribed arms to men living at that time! 1/

Soon after the Battle of Hastings, however, somebody thought up the idea of arms as being a very good way of telling friend and foe apart in battle - so one would be sure to carve up the right man. It is said, for example, that William the Conqueror had to keep taking his helmet off at the Battle of Hastings so his friends would know he was still alive - a nuisance which could have been avoided if only he had had arms emblazoned on his shield. It also helped in tournaments to identify the two knights, armed from head to foot, coming forth into the lists.
Nobles and gentlemen made up their own arms and it is remarkable that for centuries everybody managed to get something distinguishable. Things got complicated, however, when there were more than one son. One standard practice was to add, for the second son, a crescent or crescents  somewhere

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The Visitation to Warwickshire of 1619, conducted by Camden, for example, purports to ascribe arms to Alwin the Sheriff, the father of Turchill, as "Chequy a chevron ermine" - e.g., a shield of alternating blue and yellow squares, with a chevron (like a sargeant's stripe) of white with dashes of black. Turchill is given the same arms except that the chevron is gules (red) instead of ermine. Drummond suggests that Turchill used arms closely resembling those of the Earl of Warwick, whose arms had a like field as Turchills although the chevron was ermine rather than gules to show he still claimed the lands William II seized from him and granted to the first Earl of Warwick! Others, more emphatically assume Turchill's arms reflected those of his overlord - a practice frequently followed in heraldry.


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on the shield. The arms of IX Sir Henry Arden (d. ca. 1400)(Chart III), for example, were the Arden arms with two red crescents inserted on top of the fess, and one below. (Ermine, a fess chequy or and azure between 3 crescents gules.) He was a second son at the time he adopted the arms. The "difference for a third son was the addition of a "mullet" to the arms which may be irrevently described as a star with a hole in the middle. The "difference" for a fourth son was a "martlet", a bird resembling a swallow but without any legs!

Frequently, however, a cadet family would branch out into entirely different arms. The Visitation of 1619, for example, shows the arms of Sir Herald de Arden, the son of a Gudmond, a younger brother of Turchill (see Chart II) having "Gules 3 crossletts fitchee and a chief or". Translated: a red shield, the top third (chief) colored yellow, and below the chief three little devices inserted resembling the Cross of Lorraine with a pointed (fitchee) end. We shall find this shield as well as the difference for a fourth son, the "martlet", playing an important part in the Shakespeare mystery below.

Finally, as heraldry became more sophisticated, people began "marshalling" arms by "impaling" other arms on their shield (e.g., dividing it into two), or "quartering" such arms (e.g., dividing it into four, usually with two sets of arms being the same). The Visitation of 1619 shows a magnificent Arden arms which is divided into six parts, 2 of which are Arden, and the remaining four are Clodshale, Bishopsdon, Golofre, and Fishyer - the families of Elizabeth Clodshale who married XI Robert Arden (executed 1452)(See Chart IVA).

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It is apparent from the foregoing that the Arden arms described above are by no means the only Arden arms. Drummond in his Noble British Families illustrates no less than 30 of them used from time to time by various branches of the family. The particular arms here, insofar as I have been able to ascer-
tain, were probably first used by V William Arden (d.ca.1233)(Chart III), and, except for IX Sir Henry Arden (d. ca. 1400) who added the crescents, as noted above, were thereafter used by the Ardens with some occasional variations. 1/

They are also the Arden arms now shown in Burke's Landed Gentry and are, therefore, over 7 centuries old. 


Before moving on with our argument, we might say a brief
world about the Arden crest. Crests developed out of the heraldic device (usually an animal) used on top of helmets, which accounts, therefore, for the usual use of a helmet or "hat of estate" as the base for the crest. The Arden crest, shown
atop the Arden arms described above, is "on a cheapeau azure turned up ermine a boar passant or". Translated: a hat, trimmed with ermine and with a blue top, upon which sits a gold boar with his right paw raised!

I have been unable to trace its precise origination, although it was obviously existing before the time 

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For example, XX John Arden (1693-17434), while Sheriff of Warwickshire, in 3 Geo.II, had two coats: Ermine, a cross bow strung gules, string or and cheque or and azure, chevron gules. I cannot find the ancestry of the former. The latter is basically the same as that ascribed by the Visitation of Warwickshire in 1619, to Turchill.


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of XII Walter Arden (1450-1502)(Chart V) since, as noted at p. 155 above, the monument of Walter in the Arden parish church consists of his effigy with his feet resting upon a boar. It probably also belonged to his father, XI Robert Arden (exec. 1452)(Chart IV). 1/

Finally, all English arms are today accompanied by a family motto. That of the Arden family is "Quo me cunque vocat patrie", which means, freely translated, "wither-so-ever my country will call me".

Shakespeare and the Arden family.

The principal argument utilized by those authors who deny Shakespeare's connection with the Ardens of Warwickshire rests with two applications which John Shakespeare, the father of William Shakespeare, made to the Herald's College in 1596 and 1599 for arms. 2/

Although the applications were made in the name of John at a time that he was between 66 and 69 years of age, it is generally agreed by all biographers of William Shakespeare
that it was really he who wanted the arms, and that it was he who handled all of the negotiations with Dethric, the Garter King of Arms, and later with Dethric and William Camden, the Clarenceux King of Arms, at the Herald's College in London.

Shakespeare was bitterly satirized by Ben Jonson, and his other playwrite rivals for seeking arms which would accord him the status of "gentleman".

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It was noted in Chapter II that the ancient device of Turchill of the rampait bear chained to the ragged staff was assumed by the Earls of Warwick when William II granted all of Turchill's lands to Henry de Newbergh, the first Earl. (ca. 1100). A substantially similar crest is presently in use by the Earls of Warwick.

By this time John Shakespeare had left his father's farm at Snitterfield, had moved to neighboring Stratford-on-Avon, one of the three major business centers of Warwickshire at this time, where he became a glover and wool stapler and had been elected to a number of civic posts, including that of alderman (1565) and bailiff (1568).


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There is no doubt that by the time of the Tudor period the acquisition of "arms" had become something of a venal affair. Just about the most important thing an applicant had to show was that he didn't do any manual labor! Any substantial landowner, holder of a civic post, or prominent burger could acquire arms - if he also had the substantial fee. Genealogies were exaggerated, if not invented, for the purpose of the application. Accordingly, the records of the Herald's College of this time are about the last place a genealogist would go
today for lineage!

All of the violent differences of opinion on the subject of Shakespeare and the Ardens are drawn from three documents which are to be found in the Herald's College. The first is a draft of a grant of arms to John Shakespeare dated October 20, 1596; the second is a second draft of the same grant in the
same year with some notes appended to the bottom including one that "he (John Shakespeare) married a daughter and heyre of Arden, a gent. of worship"; and the third is a rough draft of a grant in 1599 impaling certain Arden arms on the Shakespeare arms. These drafts are all rough, filed with inter-lineations and
scratched out material. 

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The rough draft of 1599 starts out as follows: "To all and singular Noble and Gentleline of all estates and degrees bearing Arms. To whom these presentes shall corn', Will'm Dethric Garter - principall King of Arms of England and Will'm Camden of Clarentieuez, King of Arms of England and William Candler of Clarentieuez, King of Arms for the Sowth, East and West p'tes of this Realme send thee greetings. Know yee that in all nations and kingdomes the record and rembrances of the vale ant factes and verteious disposition of worthie men have ben made knowne' and divulged by certeyne Shields of Arms and tokens of Chevalrie . . . that John Shakespeare . . . whose great grandfather and late antecessor for his faithefull and approved service to the last most prudent Prince King Henry 7 of famous memorie was advanced and rewarded with lands and tenementes given to him in those p'tes of Warwickshire . .

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The biographers of Shakespeare are about evenly divided as to whether, in fact, any or either of the proposed grants were in fact actually made and whether, therefore, Shakespeare's use of arms was thereafter illegitimate because he was not a "gentleman".

Halliwell-Phillips, Kenney and Hazlitt contend that neither the 1596 nor the 1599 proposed grants were ratified. Malone, Knight, Dyce, Hydson, Bohn and Nichols claim that both grants were made but agree that there is absolutely no evidence that Shakespeare ever used the second grant impaling the Arden arms. Hunter, White, Elze, Tennenbaun, Rolfe, Tucker and Stopes claim the 1596 grant was ratified, but not the 1599 grant, which explains why the Shakespeare arms alone were subsequently used, but not those impaling Arden arms. This latter view is the one which I hold based largely on the fact that in 1601, one Ralph Brooke, the York Herald, galled at the advancement of Camden, unsuccessfully charged both Detrick, Garter King, and Camden, Clarenceux King, with having improperly granted arms to a number of persons, including John Shakespeare. (See photocopy of Detrick and Camden's defence in Tucker.) A protest and defence would hardly have been made over a grant or a proposed grant never ratified. With regard to the 1599 proposed grant impaling the Arden arms, Shakespeare's desire for such arms, coupled with the fact that he never used them, would reasonably indicate the conclusion that they were never, in fact, ratified.

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The contest becomes even warmer, when some of the authors claim both untruths and trickery on the part of the Shakespeare, father and son, in making the applications. 1/  

Such contentions have needless to say brought forth anguish cries from worshippers of the Poet! 2/

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Sir Sidney Lee, for example, contends that the 1596 grant was never made and that, in 1599, after Camden,who knew Shakespeare, had been appointed to the College as Clarenceux Herald, another application was made which simply assumed that the 1596 grant had been made and asked that the Arden arms be impaled thereon! Other authors point to the fact that the 1596 draft contains (a) notations about how wealthy John Shakespeare was when he, in fact, was very financially embarassed at the time and (b) recitations of a long Shakespeare genealogy back to men rewarded by Henry VII -- a statement which can only be true if we assume that John Shakespeare was talking about his wife's, not his, ancestors — an important distinction not made clear in either of the 1596 rough drafts, or in the 1599 draft, as seen from the quotation therefrom in fn. 1, p. 185.

"If Mr. Lee's theory were correct we should have to regard William Shakespeare (the greatest, wisest, and loftiest teacher of mankind), and his father (one of the oldest and most respected citizens of Stratford) as having entered into a conspiracy with the heads of the College to have themselves enrolled among the gentry. Apart from an aversion to believe this of the author of 'Hamlet', 'Lear', and 'the Tempest', we find that the known facts singly and collectively refute the implied charge of fraud and venality in the application." Tennebaun, William Shakespeare-Gentleman (1909).


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Let us leave this particular dispute for a moment, however, and turn to the important point at hand: the Arden arms which the Heralds proposed to impale on the Shakespeare arms in the 1599 grant. In the left hand part of the shield are the Shakespeare arms, purported to have been granted in 1596,
which consist of a spear on a "bend" - a diagonal slash across the field. On the right side the Heralds started to sketch a fess chequy (bar with squares) used in the arms of the Ardens of Park Hall. They then scratched those arms out. Instead, they sketched in an entirely different set of arms consisting of
"Gules 3 cross crosslets fitchee, chief or, with a martlet for a difference".
Translated: a red shield, the top half of which is gold. Three pointed devices (which look like crosses of Lorraine) on the bottom and, on the top third of the shield, the "martlet" (looking like a bird without legs).

The question is why were the Arden of Warwickshire arms stricken? Those who contend that Shakespeare's mother Mary was not a descendent of the ancient family of Arden in Warwickshire, point out as the reason the "obvious" fact that the Shakespeares were not able to make out a valid case in relationship with the Ardens of Warwickshire. Sir Sidney Lee, the Shakespeare biographer who believes there was considerable underhandedness connected with the applica-
tion, goes further and says that when in 1599 John Shakespeare: 
"asked permission for himself to impale, and his eldest son and other children to quarter, on his
'ancient coat of arms' that of the Ardens of Wilmcote,

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his wife's family, the College officers were characteristically complacent. A draft was prepared under the hands of Detrick, the Garter King, and of Camden, the Clarenceux King, . . . authorizing the requested impalement and quartering. On one point only did Detrick and Camden betray conscientious scruples. Shakespeare and his father obviously desired the heralds to recognize the title of Mary Shakespeare (the poet's mother) to bear the arms of the great Warwickshire family of Arden, then seated at Park Hall. But the relationship, if it existed, was undetermined; the Warwickshire Ardens were gentry of influence and were certain to protest against any assumption of identity between their line and that of the humble farmer of Wilmcote. After tricking the Warwickshire Arden coat in the margin of the draft-grant for the purpose of indicating the manner of impalement, the heralds on second thoughts erased it. They substituted in their sketch the arms of an Arden family living at Alvanley in the distant county of Cheshire. With that stock there was no pretence that Robert Arden was lineally connected; but the bearers of the Alvaney coat were unlikely to learn of its suggested impalement with the Shakespeare shield and the heralds were less liable to risk complaint or litigation. But the Shakespeares wisely relieved the College of all anxiety by omitting to assume the Arden coat." Lee, Life of William  Shakespeare (1923).

Those biographers of Shakespeare who contend, on the other hand, that Shakespeare's mother was of the "great family of Arden, then seated at Park Hall", must, in order to win their case, advance a plausible reason for the substitution of arms -- even if it is conceded that Sir Sidney has been somewhat
over-enthusiastic in his assumption of venality in the whole transaction. Some assume that the reason for the substitution was that the Ardens of Park Hall were, at the time, under opprobruim following the execution of Edward Arden
in 1583 and that the Heralds, or Shakespeare, concluded that it would hardly do


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him much good to flaunt arms in front of Elizabeth of a family, a member of which had been executed for complicity in an assasination attempt against her.

Accordingly, they contend, Shakespeare simply decided on another set of Arden arms which does not necessarily contradict his relationship to the Ardens of Park Hall. While plausible, this explanation is mere supposition.

Other biographers, however, particularly Stopes, 1/ delve deeply into heraldry and come up with a justification for the  substitution which, with some addenda which I offer, seems entirely plausible. It is this:
It will be recalled from the discussion of heraldry that adjustments were required to arms in order to distinguish cadet families. Arms would hardly serve their purposes of distinguishing knights on the field, or in the lists, if all sons and grandsons showed up with the same arms. In some instances, as in the case of X Sir Henry Arden, as noted above, the standard "differences" of a crescent for the second son, mullet for the third, and martlet for the fourth son were used. In other cases, completely different arms were developed.
A customary pattern for a second son in the Arden family had been the 3 cross crosslets fitchee, chief or. This had been the arms in the 12th century of the family of the second son of Turchill. Of particular significance, it was the pattern used by XVI Simon Arden, the second son of XVI Thomas Arden, while
he was Sheriff of Warwickshire in 11 Eliz. (1569), and before he moved to 

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Mrs. C. C. Stopes' Shakespeare's Family  (1901) is the most cogently reasoned of all Shakespeare biographies on the point of his relation to the Arden family.


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Staffordshire. 1/   It was thereafter used by the Staffordshire Ardens until the Warwickshire Arden family died out in 1643. At that time the centuries-old fesse chequy was readopted by the Ardens of Staffordshire, as the most ancient surviving family of a direct line. Thus we find the fesse chequy as the arms on the tomb of XIX Henry Arden in the Yoxall Parish Church in Staffordshire in 1728 (p. 218 below).

Thus, contra to the contention of Sir Sidney Lee, the heralds were correct, as a matter of heraldry, in correcting their initial sketch of the fesse chequy as the Arden arms to be impaled with those of Shakespeare. Mary Arden was not descended from a first son. XII Walter Arden, her grandfather,was one of the younger sons of Walter. It was, therefore, perfectly appropriate to select the arms of the 3 cross crosslets. The martlet as the "difference" would have been appropriate to differentiate such arms from the Cheshire arms which had a crescent for a "difference" and the Staffordshire arms of Simon
Arden which had no "difference".

So there was no "copying" of the arms of the distant Cheshire Ardens, a branch of the family that broke off from the Warwickshire Ardens sometime in the 13th century. Their 3 cross crosslets with a crescent for a differencewas just as appropriate for them, as descendants of a cadet family, as it was for Sir Herald, the grandson of Turchill in the 12th century and XV Henry Arden 

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Fuller's testimony of the Worthies of England, part 111, Vol. 132.


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in the 16th century (without the crescent), and Mary Arden, as the granddaughter of a cadet family of XII Walter Arden at the same time. Accordingly, I side with those who protest the rejecting of the claim of Mary Arden to the lineage of the Warwickshire Ardens based on the herald's correction to the sketch in the 1599 rough grant. Heraldry supports, not rejects, that claim.

A second major argument of those with the viewpoint of Sir Sidney Lee advance most also he rejected as insubstantial. They call attention to the fact that in two real estate deeds Robert Arden, Mary's father, he is referred to as "husbandman", of which "farmer" is a colloquial synonym. Then, they conclude, no farmer could possibly be connected with the great family of Warwickshire!

But wealth in a cadet family of England at this time was by no means the standard in a society where the eldest son inherited the bulk of the family estates. Indeed, we find XVI Walter Arden only willing his son Thomas, Robert Arden's father, ten marks which was not a lot of money even at that time! Undoubtedly, Walter provided some land for him during his lifetime, so that ten marks is hardly all that Thomas ended up with. (If this had been so, he really would have been a poor relative of the "great family of Warwickshire"!) By his death, however Thomas was able to leave his son Robert substantial acres, to which Robert added during his lifetime. By Robert's death, he had over 156 acres and a number of houses, gardens, etc. Although a "husbandman", he was most certainly no poor farmer! He was the typical product of the system of primogeniture in English society.

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Having negatived the two principal arguments relied upon by those who discount the claim of Shakespeare to the Arden of Warwickshire lineage on his mother's side, there remains the establishment of the "missing link". How can we definitely tie down the Thomas mentioned in the wills of XII Walter Arden and XIV Sir John Arden, of Park Hall, Warwickshire, with the Thomas Arden of Wilmcote, Warwickshire, the grandfather of Mary Arden?

The missing link, I believe, is supplied in a deed of May 16, 1501 (16 Hen. VII) of property at Snitterfield to Thomas Arden, and his son Robert. (It was on the Snitterfield property that Richard Shakespeare, the paternal grandfather of the Poet, was a tenant farmer.) The deed was made out at a time Robert was a minor. Joining Thomas Arden as a trustee were a number of men including Thomas Trussell, a known friend of the Arden family in Warwickshire, and of particular significance, Robert Throckmorton. As noted at page 155 above, the Throckmortons were also closely allied to the Ardens and would hardly be involved with acting as trustee for Robert Arden if there had not been some family relationship between Robert and the Park Hall Ardens!

Accordingly, although I agree fully with the critics of the Shakespeare-Arden tie-in that there is no proof positive, I submit that the claim of Mary Arden to this relationship is well supported even if we ignore, as do all of the students of this matter, who deal only in documents, the very simple presumption, that

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Mary Arden, like most people, could reasonably have had a fairly good idea of who her own grandfather was !




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