Women in Literature - Anne Hathaway
This hub is inspired by, and dedicated to, travmaj, after reading her funny 'Lament of Anne hathaway'.
Not many spouses of famous writers get any press, particularly where said writers have kept their spouses hidden back in the kitchen and the nursery. So neither did Anne figure largely in Shakespeare's public life, and the inferences concerning her could only be imagined from their time together. Historians and creative writers have created their history from speculation and imagination.
Anne Hathaway, at 26, was pregnant with Will Shakespeare’s child when they married, he at age 18. There is speculation that it was a ‘shotgun wedding’ and that the groom was forced by Anne’s relatives to marry her when he really wanted to marry an ‘Anne Whateley’. There is no proof either of the ‘shotgun’ part nor of the existence of the second woman. Will could very well have been the one to court Anne, not the other way round.
They had three children, Susanna (later Hall), born in 1583, and the twins Hamnet and Judith (later Quiney), born in 1585. Hamnet died at the age of 11, in 1596, presumably from the plague. There were no more children after Shakespeare’s twenty-first year. Some authors, principally Frank Harris (1856-1931) have claimed that he loathed his wife for having trapped him, and that this made him leave home to find work in the theater in London.
Anne Hathaway's Cottage
He was an absent husband and father, away in the great metropolis of London seeking his fortune in the theater. There were long absences, when he toured the country, lived among theatrical characters and had his affairs. Yet he returned to Stratford for a period every year, and pictures show him with his children listening raptly to his stories while Anne sat with them with her needlework, a contented housewife.
There was supposedly a ‘ dark-eyed beauty ’ with whom he was in love, probably someone in the theater, but I could not find any documentation relating to her.
There is not a lot known about Anne Hathaway. From public legal records, she was born in1555/56 in Shottery, Warwickshire, England. She married William Shakespeare in 1582. They were married for 34 years, till his death in 1616. In Tudor times, marriages were often made for the sake of security and companionship. On Anne’s part, she was a spinster who had stayed on in the family home to bring up her siblings after their parents’ deaths. On William's part, he had no money or prospects, his family wealth having been lost by his father.
Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.
Anne lived here after her marriage.
They lived during the Tudor monarchy, when Catholics were persecuted by the newly founded Church of England. Shakespeare’s family were staunch Catholics, and William’s father, wealthy by the time of William’s birth, was repeatedly fined for refusing to attend Protestant church services, for which he would appear on lists of ‘obstinate papists’. He also refused to pay a levy imposed on the town to strengthen the local militia - which was presumably organised to fight off the Catholic threat from Europe. For his Catholic practices and various other not so legal or honest dealings, John Shakespeare lost his family fortune.
Thus William had nothing to offer Anne, while she, with her family’s good social and financial standing, was quite a catch.
Shakespearean gifts for your scholar.
Life in retirement - 'the second-best bed'
Despite his frequent long absences during the marriage, Shakespeare, when he retired from the theater in 1613, chose to live in his hometown with his wife, rather than in London. He had also invested all his considerable earnings in Stratford property through the years, including New House, the house he bought for his family so Anne could have her own household at last.
After he retired, it is presumed he and Anne had a peaceful co-existence, living in close proximity with their children and later, grandchildren. Which is why there is so much mystery and speculation surrounding his famous will, where he left Anne his ‘second-best bed’. Who got the rest of his estate? Who had the ‘best bed’?
Well, the best bed in Elizabethan times was reserved for guests. And the second-best bed was usually an expensive piece of furniture, costing almost as much as a house. Besides, this was the marriage bed, the setting of their marital love, so leaving it to his wife was a memento of their love, not a slight. It could also have been a reminder to her of their ‘sexual adventures’, alluded to in a novel by Robert Nye. 'Mrs. Shakespeare: the Complete Works', purports to be her autobiographical reminiscences. How that could be is a mystery, since it was supposed Anne was unschooled and illiterate, as were most of the females of her time, including the Shakespeare daughters.
Tombs of William and Anne Shakespeare.
Anne Hathaway's legacy.
According to English Common Law, Anne was entitled to one-third of the estate of her husband whether or not the will stipulated it. She was also entitled to residence for life of New Place, the manorial home William had bought with his growing wealth. Did William mean to leave Anne penniless?
It has been speculated that Anne was to be supported by her children.
Susanna had married a well-to-do doctor, John Hall, in Stratford, in 1607.
Judith married Thomas Quiney, a vintner and tavern owner from Stratford, in February 1616. A month after the marriage, Thomas Quiney was prosecuted for ‘carnal copulation’ with a Margaret Wheeler, who had died in childbirth along with their baby. Fearing for Judith’s future, Shakespeare in March 1616 modified his Last Will and Testament, leaving Judith 300 pounds to be inherited in her own name. He died soon after, on April 23rd., 1616, and was buried in the chancel of the Church of the Holy Trinity, Stratford-upon-Avon.
Anne Hathaway after her death.
After various small bequests, the bulk of the considerable Shakespeare estate was left to Susanna and John Hall. So it is reasonable to suppose that they supported Anne for the rest of her life.
The early twentieth century saw many authors and playwrights making money with scandalous stories of Anne Hathaway as a ‘sexually incontinent cradle-snatcher’ or a ‘frigid shrew’. One even made the scurrilous allegation that ‘the second-best bed’ was a punishment for an 'adulterous' Anne. What she was we shall never know, for William Shakespeare never wrote about their life together. Those writers could only surmise, start gossip, and stoke the flames.
Anne Hathaway died August 6th 1623 at age 67, surviving her husband by 7 years. She was buried next to him in the Church of the Holy Trinity, Stratford-upon-Avon. Sadly, they left no direct or indirect descendants, for the first of their Quiney grandsons died in infancy and the other two before ever marrying. Their granddaughter, Elizabeth Hall, despite two marriages, died without issue. No real explanation has ever surfaced for 'the second-best bed'.