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Elizabeth Barnard (Part Two)

In this follow-up piece, Phil Spinks tells us about Elizabeth Barnard's later life.

Phil Spinks
The Will begins "In the name of God, Amen" in large script, followed by "I Mrs Elizabeth Barnard" in slightly smaller script. The remainder is in smaller but very  clear script.
Copy of the will of Elizabeth Barnard, 29 Jan 1670 (TR46/1/11)

In our last blog post, we left Thomas and Elizabeth Nash at home in New Place, Stratford after Elizabeth’s father’s death in 1635. Nash’s house, juxtaposed with New Place, was owned by Thomas, but not lived in by the couple. Susanna Hall lived with them, along with their servants. Regular income from rents on property ensured a comfortable life.

In the summer of 1642 Civil War was imminent. During the period before the Battle of Edgehill (23 October) New Place ‘played host’ to fourteen prominent Parliamentarian officers including Lord Brooke, military commander of Warwickshire and Staffordshire and arch Puritan. They stayed for ‘9 or 10 nights and dayes’. The troops they led plundered cattle, horses and fodder, and Thomas Nash recorded the loss of a ‘silver spoone’ and even 'a scarlet Peticoat of my wifes'. [1] 

It would seem that the Shakespeare family silver – left to Elizabeth by her grandfather – was requisitioned and that Thomas gave £7 for the soldiers ‘to buy a dragoone Horse’. [2] In September 1642 Thomas, who was sympathetic to Parliament’s cause, was the borough’s largest contributor to its war chest, giving plate and £100. [3] He had forgiven the earlier thievery. Later, in 1647, with the first phase of the Civil War over, New Model Army troops decided to billet themselves on Elizabeth; she was by then a widow, with no say or choice about her ‘guests’. [4]

The following year saw a quite different delegation arrive at Elizabeth’s door: Her Majesty the Queen accompanied by a small army of Royalist troops. Henrietta Maria had been in Holland since early-1642 arguing the King’s cause and raising funds. She returned to England via Bridlington, Yorkshire in early-1643, and made her slow process south to join the King at Oxford. Prince Rupert welcomed the Queen to Stratford in mid-July. She stayed three days (11 – 13 July) at New Place, entertained by the Nashes. [5]

Dame Elizabeth Barnard
Portrait of an unknown lady, previously believed to be Elizabeth Barnard (STRST : SBT 1994-19/105)

Thomas Nash died on 4 April 1647 and was buried the following day: ‘Thomas Nash, Gent’. [6] His will, dated 25 August 1642, directed that upon Elizabeth’s death ‘New Place, four yardlands in the fields of Old Stratford and Welcombe, and the London property’ was to go to his cousin Edward Nash. Whether Elizabeth was privy to this presumption and abuse of property ownership that was rightfully Susanna’s before her husband’s death is not known, but she ‘declined to fulfil this part of the will, resettling it after Nash's death to the use of her mother, herself, and the heirs of her body.’ [7] Elizabeth and her mother Susanna, both widows, were the only occupants of New Place. The women were thirty-nine and sixty-three years of age respectively; theirs would have been a quiet and very comfortable life.

A man with Warwickshire connections and an old Shakespeare family friend now comes into Elizabeth’s life. John Barnard was a successful lawyer and ‘a gentleman of wealth and position’ [8] from Abington, near Northampton. He was widowed in 1642; he had eight children by his late wife Elizabeth: four sons and four daughters. [9]  He studied law at Cambridge, entering King’s College in 1620, aged 16, and thence to Gray’s Inn in 1624. [10] 

On a visit to Warwickshire sometime after Thomas Nash’s death, it seems Barnard struck upon the idea that Elizabeth would be just the person to look after his household and his children ‘and so esteem and friendship of old standing may have deepened into a tenderer feeling by degrees’. [11] 

Elizabeth and her suitor must have got along well as they were married on 5 June 1649. John was forty-five years old [12], four years older than his bride. They were to have no children. The couple was married at Billesley, three miles west of Stratford. In all likelihood, John and Elizabeth chose this out-of-the-way rural parish to thwart the authorities, to obtain ‘if not the proscribed rites … at least some kind of religious ceremony’. [13] The Church of England’s marriage rites were banned during the Interregnum; a civil ceremony conducted by a Justice of the Peace replaced them. Parliament legislated for same in the Marriage Act, 1653, wherein the man promised to be ‘loving and faithful’ husband, the woman to be ‘loving, faithful and obedient’ wife. [14]

Mr and Mrs Barnard established their home at New Place which became a much livelier place with the introduction of John’s children. Soon afterward, on 11 July 1649, Susanna Hall died and was buried close to her parents’ graves in Holy Trinity Church. Elizabeth was now the owner of New Place, houses in Henley Street, Stratford, and much else besides. Lee informs us that shortly before the Restoration (1660) the Barnards ‘removed to Abington Manor and Mrs Barnard’s association with Stratford came to an end’. [15] (It is most unlikely that Elizabeth never revisited the town.) Abington Manor was in the countryside, beside the parish church of a tiny village; a much quieter place than Stratford.

Parish Register Baptisms Elizabeth Hall
Parish Register, Elizabeth Barnard's baptism (21st February 1608) (DR243/1)

John Barnard, back in his home county, entered into the local scene quickly. In March 1660 he was appointed Justice of the Peace sitting, presumably, in Northampton. And, although he had been for Parliament during the Civil War, he accepted a knighthood from Charles II in September 1661, thus making Elizabeth, Lady Elizabeth. Following ‘a lavish distribution of alms at Christmas’ 1663 Sir John Barnard was duly elected MP for Northampton on 31 March 1664. But then, less than a month later, he was unseated by another candidate on 26 April! [16] Sir John never canvassed for Parliament again.

Sir John and Lady Elizabeth continued their comfortable lives as Lord and Lady of the Manor of Abington. The manor house, standing beside the parish church of SS Peter and Paul, was not much larger than New Place and during the Barnards’ time it was extended. In 1669 Sir John sold the manor house (which had been in Barnard hands for 300 years), the entire estate which included the small village of Abington, to William Thursby for £13,750. 

Parish Register Marriages Elizabeth Hall
Parish Register, marriage of Elizabeth Barnard and Thomas Nash (22nd April 1626) (DR243/1)

Almost certainly the Barnards lived out their lives in the manor house after its sale. Lady Elizabeth died in mid-February 1669/70 and was buried in the Lady Chapel of the parish church: ‘Madam Elizabeth Bernard, wife of Sir John Bernard, Kt., was buried 17th Feby, 1669 [1670]’. [17] Here the direct line of descent of William Shakespeare ended. Elizabeth’s will was made shortly before her death on 29 January 1669/70, replacing one she made in 1653. Her Stratford properties, including New Place and land, she left in trust to one Henry Smith for him to sell after Sir John’s death; the first refusal was to go to her ‘loving Cousin Edward Nash’ (Thomas’ cousin). The moneys raised furnished the legacies she willed to various relatives and friends, in Stratford and beyond. [18]

Sir John died on 5 March 1674. He too was buried in Abington church, but in the south-east chapel; over the vault was placed an inscribed ledger stone memorialising him. It was not until 1902 that an inscription for Lady Elizabeth (now much worn) was made on the stone, it was understood that she too lay under it. The error was discovered and corrected in 1981 when a memorial to Elizabeth was affixed to the north wall of the Lady Chapel. 


  1. Macdonald, M.R., ‘Nash, Thomas, (bap.1593, d.1647)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 40 vols, Oxford, OUP, 2004, xl.233.
  2. Tennant, Philp, The Civil War in Stratford-upon-Avon: Conflict and Community in South Warwickshire, 1642-1646, Stroud; Alan Sutton, 1996, p. 26.
  3. Macdonald, ‘Nash’, p.233.
  4. Tennant, Civil War, p. 72.
  5. Macdonald, ‘Nash’, p.233.
  6. Shakespeare Centre Library and Archive [SCLA], DR243/1: Burials.
  7. Macdonald, ‘Nash’, p. 233.
  8. SCLA, ER82/11/6/1(N). Notes of Richard Savage, Secretary, and Librarian to Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, 1884-1910.
  9. Lee, Sir Sidney, A Life of William Shakespeare, London; John Murray, 1922, p. 513. One daughter died before maturity and all four sons predeceased their father.
  10. Venn, John and J.A. Venn, Alumni Cantabrigiensis, Part 1, 4 vols, Cambridge, CUP, 1922, i.90 and Foster, Joseph, The Register of Admissions to Gray’s Inn, 1521-1889, London; Hansard Publishing Union, 1889, p. 174.
  11. Higgins, Mrs Napier, The Bernards of Abington and Nether Winchendon: A Family History, 4 vols, London; Longman, Green, and Co., 1903, i.59.
  12. [Accessed 21 December 2019]
  13. Higgins, The Bernards, i.59.
  14. [Accessed 22 December 2019] ‘Parliament had begun its consideration of matrimonial reform ten years previously, and concern at the 1653 Act’s lack of success revived the matter in 1657 when parliament continued the Act but without the clause invalidating all other forms of marriage service.’
  15. Lee, Life, p. 513.
  16. [Accessed 21 December 2019]
  17. Entry in the parish church register, quoted in Abington Manor and the Last of the Shakespeares, County Borough of Northampton, 1964
  18. Elizabeth’s original will is in The National Archives (TNA PROB 11/332/366) and a (poor) copy is held by Shakespeare Birthplace Trust (SCLA, TR46/2/19).

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