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Who was Philip Rogers, the Apothecary in Shakespeare’s Stratford?

Chris Booth sheds light on a provincial apothecary operating in Shakespeare's Stratford-upon-Avon.

Chris Booth

An apothecary named Philip Rogers appears in many volumes of history concerned with Shakespeare and his life in Stratford-upon-Avon (for prominent examples see Fripp, 1964; Schoenbaum, 1987; Jones, 1996). Rogers is often characterised as a debtor and compared to the ‘meagre’ apothecaries full of ‘sharp misery’ who appear in Shakespeare’s plays (for example in Romeo and Juliet Act 5, Sc. 1, lines 40-41). Those accounts of him focus on a single court case and do not attempt to fully characterise his life and work. This is the first of two blog posts which seek to rectify the oversight and bring some more light to the work of a provincial apothecary operating in Stratford-upon-Avon through the first decades of the 17th century. Records of provincial medical practitioners and retailers such as Rogers are rare survivals and so the opportunity to explore Philip Rogers’ life and medical practice is exciting. It also contributes to my doctoral research on the apothecaries of the British North Atlantic in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Declaration in the Shakespeare v. Rogers court case (1604)

Why is Philip Rogers of Interest?

The primary reason that Philip Rogers came to the attention of Shakespeare scholars is that in 1604 William Shakespeare sued him in the Stratford-upon-Avon Court of Record for non-payment of a debt relating to the purchase of malt. Fripp (1964: 620) states that Shakespeare himself was not in Stratford at the time which the debt was accrued and suggests that Rogers bought malt from Anne Shakespeare on 27 March, 10 April, 3 May, 16 May, and 30 May (SBT, ER27/5). Schoenbaum (1987: 240-241) notes that of the 41s. 10d. that Rogers owed he had only paid 6s. when Shakespeare sued. Shakespeare demanded the remaining balance, plus 10s. in compensation (SBT, ER27/5; Bearman & Folger Library, 2016). Unfortunately, the outcome of the case does not survive so it cannot be known whether Shakespeare got his compensation.

One curiosity which is seldom explored in those volumes is why an apothecary was purchasing such large quantities of malt? Stratford at this time had a thriving malted grain industry and the Shakespeare family are known to have bought and sold malt as a commodity for use in brewing beer. Rogers’ need for malt is illustrated through the records of the Corporation of Stratford where in 1604 he is listed as licenced to sell ale within the borough (SBT, BRU 15/3/26; Bearman, 2011: 290-291). In 1606 he is again listed, this time as ‘Phillipus Rogers, pothecary’ and paid a surety for Nicholas Jevynes, Yeoman, to sell ale. Jevynes in turn was the surety for Rogers’ licence to do the same (SBT, BRU 15/12/75; Bearman, 2011: 389-390). In 1608 again we find a listing for Philip Rogers, this time as an Alehouse Keeper on the High Street (SBT, BRU 15/12/95; Bearman, 2011: 443-444).

Whilst it is often true that in early modern documents the titles and professions that people are given ‘owed as much to the context in which they were written down as the boundaries of the occupations (real or imagined) to which they related’ (Mortimer, 2009: 68), it was also possible to have two occupations. Within Stratford-upon-Avon ‘by far the most usual secondary occupation was victualling – brewing and selling ale’ (Jones, 1996: 24). As many as 55 people in the records that survive were referred to as victuallers whilst also practising another profession (Jones, 1996: 24). In smaller towns an apothecary would likely not have had enough business selling medicines in the early 17th century to maintain their family and so would have multiple occupations, often within the realm of grocery, general retailing, or tavern-keeping (Lindemann, 1999: 216; Mortimer, 2009: 71). Which occupation they emphasised probably depended on the context in which they were appearing with the higher status one most often mentioned. In Philip Rogers’ case this explains why even in Corporation records relating to licences to sell ale he was listed as a ‘pothecary’ (SBT, BRU 15/12/75; Bearman, 2011: 389-390).

What else can we know about Philip Rogers?

The one famous court case, evidence of a secondary occupation, and a single, though significant, debt is too little to characterise anyone in a prosperous market town in this period, and yet this is where most examinations of Rogers end. So, who was this Philip Rogers, the apothecary of Stratford-upon-Avon?

We have no records of Philip Rogers’ baptism or early life but we do know that Rogers married Elinor Saunder on the 9th of October 1597 in Wroxall (Greer, 2007: 302). The couple had at least three daughters: Frances (baptised in Stratford in 1605), Rose (1607), and Margaret (buried in Stratford in 1609) (SBT, PSHT/A/1/DR243/1). Greer (2007: 302-303) suggests that they may also have had a son who went to Oxford and gained a licence to practice as a surgeon.

Whilst in Stratford-upon-Avon, Rogers lived first on Sheep Street. This connection suggests that he may have been a relation of William Rogers who was one of the serjeants-at-mace for the borough, of which there were only two at a given time, and who died in 1597 (Greer, 2007: 302). William, like Philip, was a victualler, brewing and selling ale but interestingly his probate inventory contained pharmaceuticals and distilling equipment which suggests that either he, or someone in his household, was producing medicines, this could well have been Philip (Jones, 2003: i, 165-166; Greer, 2007: 302). William Rogers lived at what is now known as the Shrieve’s House and it is possible that it was from this house that Philip Rogers first practised as an apothecary and first kept his victualling business before moving to the High Street in c.1608 (SBT, BRU 15/12/95; Bearman, 2011: 443-444).

Much like his early life, the end of Rogers’ life is not recorded; he last appears in the documents in c.1612/13 and it is clear that he was not buried in Stratford (Greer, 2007: 303). Rogers was not simply a ‘meagre’ or miserable debtor of an apothecary, he was a husband and father who, it seems, moved to Stratford to start his business and possibly to be closer to his family. A man who had three daughters one of whom unfortunately died, and who may have been related to an important civic functionary within the borough. It is a shame that this individual is reduced to a footnote who once owed William Shakespeare a sum of money.

This outline of a life has been possible because of a detailed search of the archives at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and the invaluable edited volumes of the Dugdale Society especially the Stratford-upon-Avon inventories 1538-1699 and the Minutes and Accounts of the Stratford-upon-Avon Corporation: 1599-1609. In the second post I will look in detail at Rogers’ work as an apothecary and victualler.

Manuscript Sources

Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, Stratford-upon-Avon, Holy Trinity Collegiate Church, 1558-2006, PSHT/A/1/DR243/1. (1558-1776). Composite register of baptisms, marriages, and burials.

Shakespeare Birthplace Trust (SBT), ER27/5. (1604). Declaration: Shakespeare v. Rogers.

Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, Stratford Upon Avon Borough, 1370-1942, BRU15/3/26. (1604-1605). Rough Draft of those licenced to sell ale (BRU15/3/23).

Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, Stratford Upon Avon Borough, 1370-1942, BRU15/12/75. (1606). List of men and women licenced to keep alehouses within the Borough of Stratford-upon-Avon by William Wyott, Baliff and others.

Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, Stratford Upon Avon Borough, 1370-1942, BRU15/12/95. (1608). Presentments made before Mr. Henry Walker and Mr. Willaim Wiatte, Justices of the Peace.

Secondary and Edited Primary Sources

Bearman, R. (Ed.). (2011). Minutes and Accounts of the Stratford-upon-avon Corporation: 1599-1609. Stratford-upon-Avon: Dugdale Society and Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

Bearman, R., & Folger Library. (2016). Shakespeare Documented: Declaration in the Stratford-upon-Avon court of record, in a suit between William Shakespeare and Philip Rogers, concerning money owed by Rogers for the sale of malt to him by Shakespeare in 1604, <16/03/2020>

Fripp, E. I. (1964). Shakespeare: Man & Artist. London: Oxford University Press.

Greer, G. (2007). Shakespeare's Wife. London: Bloomsbury Publishing.

Jones, J. (1996). Family Life in Shakespeare's England. Stroud: Sutton Publishing.

Jones, J. (Ed.). (2003). Stratford-upon-Avon inventories 1538-1699. Stratford-upon-Avon: Dugdale Society in association with the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

Lindemann, M. (1999). Medicine and Society in Early Modern Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Mortimer, I. (2009). The Dying and the Doctors: The Medical Revolution in Seventeenth-Century England. Woodbridge: The Boydell Press for The Royal Historical Society.

Schoenbaum, S. (1987). William Shakespeare: A compact documentary life (Revised ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Shakespeare, W. (1623). Romeo and Juliet (Oxford Shakespeare, Jill L. Levenson ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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