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Shakespeare's Wedding and Marriage

Who did William Shakespeare marry?

William Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway in November 1582 and they remained married until Shakespeare's death. At the time of their marriage William was 18, while Anne was 26—and pregnant with their first child. 

The average age of marriage was 26 years of age, so Anne would have been an eligible young lady of her time. William, on the other hand, was still a minor in the eyes of the law and so required permission from Anne's father to marry Anne. Shakespeare's early marriage also meant that he wouldn't legally be able to complete an apprenticeship. 

To avoid any scandal surrounding Anne's pregnancy, William sped up proceedings by applying to the Bishop's Court in Worcester. This licence also authorised the marriage to take place outside the parish of normal residence, allowing William and Anne to be married outside of Stratford-upon-Avon. Stratford then lay in the diocese of Worcester, and two documents survive in the diocesan archives to establish the marriage was performed in November 1582, but neither document specifies the parish in which they did marry. The parishes of Luddington, Bishopton, Billesley, and Temple Grafton have all been suggested. 

Anne and William's first daughter, Susanna, was born six months after their marriage, and they would go on to have twins Judith and Hamnet a few years later. Read the article, 'How Many Children did Shakespeare Have?' to learn more about Shakespeare’s children.

Courtship of William Shakespeare
The Courtship of William Shakespeare

Tudor Wedding Customs

On her wedding day, a Tudor bride would have worn her best set of clothes, with her hair worn loose and crowned with a garland of herbs. She would have been escorted by her bridesmaids who would spread rushes before her to protect her shoes and clothes from mud. 

The groom would dress in his finest doublet and hose, and been escorted by his male friends to the bride's house with the musical accompaniment of the pipe and tabor. It was common for the groom to bring gloves for wedding guests in exchange for herbs and flowers (an appropriate gift since Shakespeare's father was a glover). 

The wedding ceremony began at the door of the church and the ring was blessed. Afterwards the wedding party entered the main body of the church for nuptial mass.

Shakespeare's Wife & Will

It is difficult to define the exact nature of Anne and William's relationship due to a lack of documentary evidence. William Shakespeare signed his will on 25 March 1616. In the will, he leaves his second-best bed to Anne; the document reads, ‘Item I gyve unto my wief my second best bed wth the furniture’ (furniture is used to refer to the curtains and bedcover which formed part of the complete bed). Some have read this as a slight against Anne; but the second-best bed would have been their marriage bed, since the best bed was typically reserved for guests.

Under medieval common law in England a widow was entitled to one third of her late husband's estate for her life (or widowhood) even though it was not specifically mentioned in the will. In practice however, most wives were mentioned, usually in terms of affection and trust, and were frequently made executrix of the will. 

The bequest of the second best bed is not in itself unusual, and wills were not places for the expression of personal feelings. The best bed, or indeed best of any type of item was usually regarded as an heirloom to be passed to the major heir, his daughter Susanna. 


Listen to experts discussing this topic further in our "Let's Talk Shakespeare" podcast episode "Did Shakespeare Love His Wife?"

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