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Roger Brien Dunn BA

At the age of 18, William Shakespeare married a woman called Anne Hathaway. Anne and her family were the tenants of a one-storey farmhouse on a 90-acre farm in Shottery. The house is less than one and a half miles away from the home in which Shakespeare was born and grew up. The Hathaway descendants kept the ever-expanding cottage in the family for 13 generations until it was purchased by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in 1892 and turned into a museum.

Anne’s father was a yeoman farmer, and consequently a well-respected member of the Shottery community. Upon his death he left Anne, who was also known as Agnes, a small sum of money with which she could marry. The house was then purchased by Anne’s brother, Bartholomew, who also acquired the freehold on the farm.

Anne married William Shakespeare late in 1582, when William was 18 years old. Anne's exact date of birth is not known, but she is thought to have been 26 when they married. What we do know is that Anne was three months pregnant at the time of their marriage. William and Anne could have ‘plighted their troth’ in a hand-fasting ceremony, traditionally undertaken on Lammas Day (1 August) where an exchange of vows was witnessed and the couple bedded, prior to the official church wedding. To avoid scandal it was important for the wedding to take place before signs of the pregnancy became too obvious, so William sped up proceedings by applying to the Bishop’s Court in Worcester. Two Shottery farmers accompanied William to the court to act as guarantors of the sum of £40, which they would be required to pay if the marriage proved to be invalid. Following their wedding, Anne would have moved in with Shakespeare and his parents to live in the family home on Henley Street.

Very little is known about Anne and William’s relationship. All we can say with certainty is that they married, had three children together, Susanna, Judith and Hamnet, and they remained married until Shakespeare’s death in 1616. Upon his death, Shakespeare left his ‘second best bed’ to Anne in his will.

Anne Shakespeare died in 1623.

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