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Elizabeth Barnard (Part One)

Phil Spinks sheds light on the early life of Elizabeth Barnard, Shakespeare's granddaughter and his last direct descendant.

Phil Spinks
The plate has at its centre a naked figure in a landscape; concentric brown and gold rings surround this, outside which a brown design on the white ceramic has strange half-human figures, plants and marine-appearing motifs . The deckled edge is brown.
A 16th century ceramic plate left to Elizabeth Barnard (STRST : SBT 1868-3/451.2)

On Monday 29 June 1981 a vault in the Lady Chapel of Abington Church, Northampton was opened to confirm an interment of 1670. The quest was undertaken by eight persons including the Vicar, the Reverend Frank Pickard, pathologist Dr J.H. Brown, and researcher Arthur Marlowe. The small vault contained eleven coffins; four belonged to small children. A careful investigation was made of the adults’ coffins; it was in the last coffin to be checked that the remains of ‘a woman in her sixties, who had … suffered an arthritic complaint’ were found. The investigators were content that this was ‘Lady Barnard, Shakespeare’s only granddaughter, Elizabeth, died in 1670, aged 62’.[1]

Elizabeth’s early years

Elizabeth was born in early-1608 in Stratford-upon-Avon and baptised at the Holy Trinity Church soon after: ‘Februar. 22. Elizabeth, dawghter to John Hall, gen[tleman].’.[2] Her parents were Susanna and John Hall, a physician; they had married in the church in 1607: ‘Junij 5 John Hall, gentleman, and Susanna Shaxspere’[3]; Susanna was the eldest daughter of William and Anne Shakespeare. The proud father gave the couple 105 acres of land as a wedding present.

Susanna Hall was twenty-four years old when Elizabeth was born and her husband nine years older; they had no more children. John was a physician and he was to build a very successful practice in and around the town. John’s place of birth, and the university at which he studied, have not been agreed upon, but he likely came from southern England. He probably received his medical training on the continent.

It was then customary for newly married couples to set up a household of their own, independent of parental supervision.[4] It is not known where the newly married Halls lived. It may have been Hall’s Croft in Old Town (it was a new house and would have suited a middle-class professional well), or it may have been the Shakespeare family home, New Place.[5]

We do not know if Elizabeth attended school. Some girls did attend grammar school then, but not for as long as boys, receiving a basic education only.[6] Commentators have argued that Susanna, Elizabeth’s mother was literate, based upon her signature alone.[7] If, as is likely, Susanna was literate, Elizabeth may have learned to read and write ‘at her mother’s knee’. Or she may have had a governess. Literacy would have enabled Elizabeth to write letters and to conduct ‘personal relationships … [and] issue orders to servants to manage a household of her own.[8] (And Elizabeth certainly had servants all her life.) She would also have learned practical skills such as cookery, needlework, knitting, and housekeeping. John Hall was a puritan, so we cannot doubt that Elizabeth was introduced to religious worship and ‘to live in the fear of the Lord [and] to love virtue and the vice’.[9] She would have grown up with the newly published (1611) King James Bible.

Elizabeth Hall was just eight years old when her grandfather died on 23 April 1616.[10] It may be assumed that, since Elizabeth was his only grandchild at the time of his death, Shakespeare would have been very fond of her. William was likely the only grandfather she ever knew. William bequeathed the bulk of his estate to Susanna: his home ‘… newe plase [New Place] wherein I nowe Dwell & two messuags [dwellings] … in Henley Streete … And all my barnes, stables, Orchardes, gardens, landes, ten[emen]tes and herediaments whatsoever … ffieldes & groundes of Stratford upon Avon, Oldstratford, Bushopton & Welcombe …’ and more, including property in London.[11] Anne was not the major beneficiary of her husband’s will; perhaps Shakespeare wanted her to live out her life without care, and it is tacit that the Halls would move into New Place (if they weren’t already there) to ensure Anne’s comfort in old age.

The young Elizabeth was also, directly and indirectly, a beneficiary of her grandfather’s will. Directly, as she received ‘One Hundred Poundes’ and ‘… All my Plate (except my brod silver and gilt bole) that I now have…’. And indirectly, as the will directed that upon Susanna’s death all that she had inherited from her father was to pass to her male heirs; if no male heirs were forthcoming, then all should go to Elizabeth, Susanna’s only child. 

Dame Elizabeth Barnard
A portrait painting of an unknown lady, about 1690-1700. Previously thought to portray Dame Elizabeth Barnard (STRST : SBT 1994-19/105)


Elizabeth grew up in New Place with her grandmother, parents, and servants. Her father worked at home and away in his medical practice, becoming a highly respected man in the town. The family would have had many friends, including an old friend of her grandfather, Anthony Nash, a land agent (sometime managing Shakespeare’s tithes from land owned) and gentleman of Welcombe and Old Stratford on the outskirts of the town; he had also been a minor beneficiary of Shakespeare’s will. His son, Thomas, was a bachelor with a promising future. Thomas attended Oxford University: ‘Nassh [sic], Thomas, subscribed 29 Oct. 1613 …’[12] and then entered Lincoln’s Inn in May 1616 aged twenty-three years and was called to the bar in November 1623.[13] His father had died the previous year, leaving Thomas a propertied, wealthy man who probably took over his father’s land agency; he doesn’t seem to have practised law. 

In early August 1623 Anne Shakespeare, aged about sixty-seven years, died and was buried alongside her husband in the sanctuary of Holy Trinity Church: ‘August 8 Mrs Shakspeare’.[14] She never saw the First Folio of her late husband’s works, which was released later in the year. Elizabeth had now lost both her maternal grandparents.

Whether a courtship developed between Thomas Nash and Elizabeth is not known, but they married in 1626 at the Holy Trinity Church: ‘April 22. Mr Thomas Nash to Mrs. Elizabeth Hall’.[15] The bride was eighteen years old, her husband thirty-five. It is not known where the Nashes lived but they likely moved into Thomas’s late father’s home away from the town centre. Thomas did not become involved with civic affairs, although he was well suited for such. He did, however, ‘cross swords’ with the borough’s bailiff and burgesses: in 1635 the civic leaders claimed the right for their wives to use a pew in the Holy Trinity Church and this was disputed by Thomas and his father-in-law, John Hall. They claimed to have contributed a great deal to the church’s upkeep.[16]

Elizabeth’s father John Hall, died on Sunday 25 November 1635 and was buried at Holy Trinity Church the following day: ‘November 26. Johannes Hall, medicus peritissimus [an extraordinarily skilful physician]’.[17] To his wife Susanna he left his house in London; to Elizabeth, his house in Acton, Middlesex, and meadowland in Stratford. In an oral and unwritten will given on his deathbed, Hall ‘gave Thomas Nash, the husband of his only child, his study [library] of books’.[18]

With her father now dead, a new period of Elizabeth’s life began. (To be continued)

Plaque to Elizabeth Barnard (1981)
Plaque to Elizabeth Barnard. Image courtesy of Phil Spinks.


  1. Shakespeare Centre Library and Archive [SCLA], DR511; papers of Arthur Marlowe. Marlowe, Arthur, ‘Report on the opening of the Bernard vault in the Lady Chapel of the Church of St Peter and St Paul, Abington’. In a later letter to Marlowe (21 February 1983) Dr J.H.Brown wrote that the bones found showed ‘marked arthritic changes’. The surname Barnard is at times spelt Bernard; Barnard is used by Northampton people and is used throughout, except when quoted.
  2. SCLA, DR243/1 Holy Trinity Church Composite Register of Baptisms, Marriages and Burials 1558-1776:- Baptisms
  3. SCLA, DR243/1: Marriages.
  4. Shepard, Alexandra, ‘Family and Household’, in The Elizabethan World, ed. by Susan Doran et al, London; Routledge, 2011, p. 358
  5. Bearman, Robert, Stratford-upon-Avon: A History of its Streets and Buildings, 2nd, rev. ed, Hendon Publishing, 2007, p. 63 and Lane, Joan, ‘Hall, John (1574/5?-1635)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography [ODNB], 60 vols, Oxford; OUP, 2004, xxiv, 623.
  6. Cox Jensen, Freyja, ‘Intellectual Developments’, in Doran, Elizabethan, p. 512.
  7. For Susanna’s literacy see Greer, Germaine, Shakespeare’s Wife, London; Bloomsbury, p. 52 citing Fripp, Edgar, I, Shakespeare: Man and Artist, London, OUP, 1938, opposite p. 905 and SCLA, DR511. S.B., ‘Shakespearian manuscripts at Abington Abbey; Mr Halliwell-Phillips’ theory and Mr Pritchard’s refutations’, Northamptonshire Notes and Queries, n.d., p. 214. Halliwell-Phillips queries Susanna’s literacy, claiming her difficulty in discerning John Hall’s handwriting from others when selling his papers and case notes in 1643. (Halliwell-Phillips, J.O., Outlines of the Life of Shakespeare, 2 vols, London; Longmans, Green, and Co., 1886)
  8. Cust, Richard, ‘Chivalry and the English Gentleman’, in Smuts, R. Malcolm (ed), The Oxford Book of the Age of Shakespeare, Oxford, OUP, 2016, p. 497. 
  9. Camden, Carroll, The Elizabethan Woman, London; Cleaver-Hume Press, 1952, p. 39.
  10. Elizabeth had three male cousins by Judith, Shakespeare’s other daughter, all of whom were born after Shakespeare’s death and who predeceased Elizabeth: Shakespeare (1616-1617), Richard (1618-1639) and Thomas (1620-1639).
  11. For a full transcript of the will see: [Accessed 23 November 2019] 
  12. Foster, Joseph, Alumni Oxoniensis 1500-1714, 4 vols, Oxford; James Parker & Co., 1891, iii,1053. Foster, Joseph, Alumni Oxoniensis 1500-1714, 4 vols, Oxford; James Parker & Co., 1891, iii,1053. 
  13. Macdonald, M.R., ‘Nash, Thomas (bap.1593,d.1647)’, ODNB, xl, 233.
  14. SCLA, DR243/1: Burials.
  15. SCLA, DR243/1: Marriages.
  16. Macdonald, ‘Nash’, p. 233.
  17. SCLA, DR243/1: Burials.
  18. Halliwell-Phillipps, Studies, i.251.

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