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Hathaway Family Artefacts on Display

Explore the original family furniture still kept at the Cottage

Anne Hathaway’s Cottage is fortunate to display a collection of original Hathaway family pieces, a result of the Hathaway descendants selling their furniture to the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust along with the house in 1892. Their furniture includes beds, a dresser, tables, chairs, along with several smaller collection items.

The Beds

In the two central bedrooms upstairs there are two tester beds (approximately late 16th-early 17th century), both Hathaway heirlooms. The plain bed is a rarer item for having been kept and preserved down the generations despite its lack of decoration. The uncarved bed is incredibly rare as it remains unaltered, unlike most beds from this period. The other, an ornately carved bed often known as ‘The Hathaway Bed’, is mostly built of English oak. The earliest parts of its frame date between 1580 and 1630 (within the lifetime of Anne Hathaway, 1556-1623), with modifications following later. The headboard carvings follow patterns based on classical Greek and Roman architectural features, which were often adapted for Elizabethan and Jacobean furniture.

The Hathaway Bed - a four-poster bed with a canopy, with carved posts holding the canopy at the foot, but otherwise very plain. It has a patchwork cover and a white bolster, and in the base the ropes on which the mattress rests are clearly visible. It stand on the bare wooden boards of an empty room, with a wattle and daub wall behind it.

During the travel-writer Samuel Ireland’s visit to the cottage in 1792, Susanna Taylor (née Hathaway) was offered, and refused, a sum of money to sell the bed to Ireland. It has popularly been connected with the ‘second best bed’ which William bequeathed to Anne Hathaway in his will. From a modern perspective this bequest may seem alarming; however, ‘the second best bed’ would likely have been the marital bed and where their children would have been born. There's simply not enough evidence to link this bed to the 'second best bed'. Nevertheless, ‘The Hathaway Bed’ clearly remained precious to the family throughout the generations, even in the face of a generous offer from Samuel Ireland. 

The Courting Chair

Also located upstairs is ‘Shakespeare’s Courting Chair’: an early 17th century oak armchair with the coat-of-arms of Shakespeare carved on its panel back. There is a strong possibility that it once belonged to William Shakespeare as it was passed down to the Hathaway family by Shakespeare’s granddaughter, Lady Elizabeth Barnard. During his travels in 1792, Samuel Ireland was attracted to the local tale that the chair had been known in William’s “remembrance as ‘Shakespeare’s Courting Chair’”, and purchased the item from the now poorer Hathaway descendants. Despite complications and delays during the chair's delivery to the Ireland home, the Chair remained intact. 

It is possible that William Henry Ireland, Samuel Ireland’s son carved the initials ‘WAS’ for ‘William’ and ‘Anne Shakespeare’ on the chair, in order to perpetuate the story of Shakespeare’s courtship of Anne. William Henry Ireland was later exposed as a forger of Shakespeare documents, and the chair itself dates to several decades after William's marriage to Anne. 

After being in private hands for over 200 years, and thanks to detailed drawings by Samuel Ireland, the chair was recognised and rediscovered at auction in 2002, despite being listed without contextual reference to William Shakespeare. After a bargain bid, the chair was returned to Anne Hathaway’s Cottage. This excites a possibility that other items of historical significance may lie undiscovered in private ownership.

A fairly standard armchair, with turned front legs and a base to the wooden seat which is decorated with carved indentations. The back has a carved diamond decoration, with a flower in the middle, and the (later added) initials are above this. Shakespeare's coat of arms is on a panel at the top  of the back.
''Courting Chair''

The Love Settle

In the parlour there is another item which has been connected with William Shakespeare’s courtship of Anne Hathaway. During the 19th century, ‘Shakespeare’s Courting Chair’ was absent from the house, but the Hathaway descendants soon filled this void with the ‘Courting Settle’. 

Mary ‘Hathaway’ Baker and other Victorian Hathaways claimed that this cosy, high-backed fireside settle was where William wooed Anne. After regaling Victorian tourists with romantic stories of the courtship, Mary Baker would produce a knife and offer to carve a small piece of the settle off as a souvenir for a sixpence. This may have been the cottage’s first ‘gift shop’. The settle does not appear to be old enough to genuinely be identified as the site of Shakespeare’s romance (the oldest part appears to date to the mid-1700s), but it serves as a reminder of the fascination tourists have always had with Shakespeare’s romance and the determination to link it to furniture items. 

The very plain settle has a tall back, the top section of which slopes over the seat. It stands near the fireplace in the kitchen. On the hearthstone beyond it is an armchair and there is a small four-legged stool under the settle. The kitchen has a stone floor, and a lattice window on the right.

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