The Future of History

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Anne Whateley

We've known for a long, long time that William Shakespeare somehow received permission to marry two women.

On Tuesday, 27 November 1582, the consistory court of the Diocese of Worcester issued a special licence allowing 'Willelmum Shakpere' to wed 'Annam Whateley de Temple Grafton'.

Shakespeare was aged just 18 at the time.  He was, therefore, a minor, theoretically dependent on his father's permission to take a wife.  The special licence was needed because the Advent season was fast approaching, when the Church forbade weddings.

The very next day - Wednesday, 28 November 1582 - two Stratford farmers, friends of the late Richard Hathaway of Shottery, made the 40-mile round trip to Worcester and laid down a substantial bond of £40 to ensure that Will Shakespeare married 'Anne Hathwey of Stratford ... maiden'.  The bond was required to indemnify the Bishop of Worcester against any legal problems arising from this marriage.

Shakespeare, of course, married Anne Hathaway, who was anything but a 'maiden' at that time (she gave birth to their first daughter six months later).  So who was 'Annam Whateley de Temple Grafton' - the first woman Shakespeare was given the bishop's permission to marry?

The official line, laid down by Professor Samuel Schoenbaum, is that she didn't exist.  There was a William Whateley, vicar of Crowle, at the consistory court that day, and the dozy clerk simply muddled up the names of 'Whateley' and 'Hathaway'.  So, nothing to see here, move along please ...

Only it isn't that simple.  For a start, the 'it was all a clerical error' argument always makes me suspicious whenever a historian advances it.  The sense I get is that, basically, we don't know the answer to this one, so we'll assume somebody got it wrong.  (There's a similar claim that the island of Ioua became 'Iona' in the 18th century because someone couldn't tell the difference between the letters 'u' and 'n' - that argument doesn't wash either.)

All the same, Sam Schoenbaum's insistence that 'Anne Whateley' was just a slip of the pen has dominated the matter for years.  We must all believe, apparently, that there never was an Anne Whateley.

Quite how the clerk also managed to mistake 'Stratford' for 'Temple Grafton', which is four miles away from Shakespeare's hometown, is never explained.

Well, as I explain in Who Killed William Shakespeare?, Anne Whateley did exist.

Pictured above is the first page of the Ultimo testimentii John Whateley de Hendeley in Ardena.  John Whateley was a draper of Henley in Arden, eight miles north of Stratford.  His will was probated in 1554 - ten years before Will Shakespeare was born.

Named in Whateley's will are his five sons and four daughters.  One was George Whateley, a woollen draper based in Stratford-upon-Avon.  George Whateley served on the Stratford Corporation with Will Shakespeare's father; he married his second wife in Stratford in May 1582, just a few months before John Shakespeare emerged for his self-imposed seclusion to vote against Whateley becoming the bailiff or mayor of Stratford.

George Whateley was a Catholic: he funded two of his brothers, John and Robert, to work as underground priests in Henley (the first of these had previously been vicar of Crowle; he resigned his post and left the Church of England, allowing William Whateley - his more conformist nephew - to take over).

John Whateley's will also names 'Agnes my daughter', who was still living with her mother when the will was drafted, and so was probably unmarried - and possibly very young - at the time.  There is a clue in the will as to who might have been the godmother of Agnes Whateley: one Agnes Fairefox of Barford, a few miles upriver from Stratford.

The names 'Anne' and 'Agnes' (pronounced 'Ann-es') were used interchangeably.  Anne Hathaway was named in her father's will as 'Agnes', and so it is a near certainty that the Agnes named in John Whateley's will would also have been known as Anne Whateley.

What this tells us is that there was an Anne Whateley in the Stratford area.  She was the sister of one of the colleagues of Shakespeare's father, who was also a near-neighbour to the Shakespeares.

Stratford tradition has long held that Anne Whateley resided in Hillborough Manor - 'haunted Hillborough' - which fell inside the parish of Temple Grafton.  Like so many a jilted bride, she lived on as a ghostly 'White Lady', a designation which might also indicate that she was an Augustinian nun.

Nuns were forbidden in Elizabethan England.  But then, so were priests - and two of Agnes's brothers worked secretly as priests in Henley in Arden.  It is possible that Anne or Agnes kept up the family tradition and served as a secret nun in the secluded manor of Hillborough.  The manor house belonged to the Huband family (Shakespeare would buy land off Ralph Huband in 1605), while the manor itself was in the hands of the ardently Catholic Sheldon family of Beoley.

It is interesting to note that Shakespeare, in his curious poem A Lover's Complaint, indicated that one of his early achievements had been to seduce a 'sacred nun', a 'sister sanctified of holiest note'.  It is also noteworthy that John Aubrey wrote, later in the 17th century, that Shakespeare left '2 or 300 pounds per annum to a sister' in his native county.  No such amount is mentioned in Shakespeare's will - and nothing like 2-300 pounds was left to his only surviving sibling, Joan Hart - so maybe there was another kind of 'sister' (an Augustinian 'White Lady', perhaps) to whom Shakespeare left a generous bequest.

The Sheldon link between Temple Grafton and Beoley is of major importance - for it was to Beoley that Shakespeare's skull was taken (see Who Killed William Shakespeare?, and it is also at Beoley that we come across some very intriguing Whateley connections!

So - Anne Whateley did exist.  She was not just a slip of the pen.

Now scholars will have to come up with a new explanation for why the young William Shakespeare was granted permission, on consecutive days, to marry two different women - and why pressure was put on him to marry Anne Hathway, when he was already contracted to marry his 'sacred nun'.


  1. I'm very intrigued by the Anne Whateley material you have uncovered and, like you, am very sceptical of official versions of this issue. With my tongue only partially in my cheek, I suggest that it's possible to read the Whateley-Shakespeare-Hathaway triangle as equivalent to Romeo-Juliet-Paris, taking Juliet to be the true hero(ine) of the piece...?

    1. Hi there! Many thanks for your comment. I certainly think that some of the love triangles and other complications in Shakespeare's plays drew on the confusion of his early love life and, especially, the matter of his two marriage licences, one for Anne Whateley, the other for Anne Hathaway.

      For example, in my book "Who Killed William Shakespeare?" I explore the probability that one of his earliest comedies, "The Taming of the Shrew", was inspired by the Whateley/Hathaway problem. Anne, or Agnes, Whateley seems an ideal candidate for the role of Bianca (the Catholic "White Lady"), while the dark and difficult Kate was surely Anne Hathaway, whose family seem to have been rather Puritan.

      Once we get to "Romeo and Juliet", however, another complication enters the equation - Jane Davenant, nee Sheppard, the "Dark Lady" of the sonnets. If we take Romeo as being modelled on Shakespeare's patron, the Earl of Southampton ("Romeo and Juliet" seems to have been a sort of 21st birthday present for Southampton), then his "first" love, before he encounters Juliet, is Rosalind. Rosalind also turns up in "Love's Labour's Lost" and "As You Like It", where she seems to have been the paramour of the more Shakespeare-like characters.

      All in all, though, where there's a love triangle in Shakespeare, we can be reasonably confident that he had his own experiences to draw upon.

      Once again, thanks for checking in!

      Very best,