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Women in Literature - Anne Hathaway

Updated on August 3, 2015

Anne Hathaway

Tracing of an Elizabethan lady by Sir Nathaniel Curzon, purported to be Anne Hathaway.
Tracing of an Elizabethan lady by Sir Nathaniel Curzon, purported to be Anne Hathaway. | Source

William Shakespeare

Portrait of William Shakespeare, the Bard.
Portrait of William Shakespeare, the Bard. | Source

This hub is inspired by, and dedicated to, travmaj, after reading her funny 'Lament of Anne hathaway'.

Shakespeare's Wife

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.

Shakespeare family

Shakespeare family circle. His children listening to his stories, his wife with needlework. 19th C. engraving.
Shakespeare family circle. His children listening to his stories, his wife with needlework. 19th C. engraving. | Source

Anne Hathaway's Cottage

Anne Hathaway's cottage where she was born. Belonged to her parents, and then to her brother.
Anne Hathaway's cottage where she was born. Belonged to her parents, and then to her brother. | Source

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.

A row of 6 cottages next to Anne Hathaway's Cottage, owned by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.
A row of 6 cottages next to Anne Hathaway's Cottage, owned by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. | Source

Anne lived here after her marriage.

Shakespeare's birthplace. He and Anne, with their children, lived here with his parents until he bought them New Place.
Shakespeare's birthplace. He and Anne, with their children, lived here with his parents until he bought them New Place. | Source

John Shakespeare

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.

New Place

A sketch by George Vertue of New Place in 1737. Shakespeare's final home, where he died and where his wife had life residency .
A sketch by George Vertue of New Place in 1737. Shakespeare's final home, where he died and where his wife had life residency . | Source

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.


Nash House.

Nash House, adjacent to New Place, which was demolished by its new owner before photography, so no picture remains of it. Nash House belonged to Thomas Nash, a wealthy landowner in Stratford, and first husband of Shakespeare's granddaughter,Elizabeth
Nash House, adjacent to New Place, which was demolished by its new owner before photography, so no picture remains of it. Nash House belonged to Thomas Nash, a wealthy landowner in Stratford, and first husband of Shakespeare's granddaughter,Elizabeth | Source

Tombs of William and Anne Shakespeare.

The tombs of William and Anne Shakespeare in Stratford-upon-Avon.
The tombs of William and Anne Shakespeare in Stratford-upon-Avon. | Source

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'.

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    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 4 years ago from California

      Very interesting hub I thought. I have heard of the shot-gun theory with regard to Anne--how I wish I could have been a fly on that wall--

    • writinglover profile image

      Jennifer 4 years ago from Lost...In Video Games

      This was fantastic! I like how you brought attention to the women of Shakespeare's time. They deserve a bit of love. By the way, I got the third series of "A Dangerous Romance" up if you hadn't checked it out yet. Parts 1 and 2 are up and I will be working on part 3 (possibly 4 as well) tonight or tomorrow. See ya!

    • mizjo profile image
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      mizjo 4 years ago from New York City, NY

      Hi, Audrey, oh dear, I don't think you'd want to have been that fly because Will had a way of demolishing with words, more potent than the swatter!

      If Anne had lived in our time she wouldn't have had to marry him. But then, she might have loved him a lot. Can't advise a woman in love.

      Thanks for visiting. Glad it was interesting.

    • mizjo profile image
      Author

      mizjo 4 years ago from New York City, NY

      Writinglover, hi. I think those women had a hard time of it, almost as bad as the Taliban women of today, with barely any rights. Ugh!

      Good I'm going to check it out. Thanks, and thanks for the visit.

    • Mhatter99 profile image

      Martin Kloess 4 years ago from San Francisco

      Wonderful research for this well put together piece. Thank you for your hard work.

    • mizjo profile image
      Author

      mizjo 4 years ago from New York City, NY

      Hi, Mhatter, always nice to see you. It was a pleasure doing this piece. As I said at the beginning, it was inspired by travmaj's funny hub on Anne Hathaway. Thanks for dropping by.

    • profile image

      Mary Lou 4 years ago

      Found this to be very interesting as well as meaningful, after visiting this place twice. Thanks for your tremendous research.

    • mizjo profile image
      Author

      mizjo 4 years ago from New York City, NY

      Hi, Mary Lou. I found that the more I researched, the more interested I got in the subject. I guess that's the way it is.

      Thanks for visiting.

    • midget38 profile image

      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Wonderful research on a Lady mentioned far less than her husband. Thanks for sharing, Mizjo. A hub penned with wonderful research and effort. Sharing!

    • mizjo profile image
      Author

      mizjo 4 years ago from New York City, NY

      Oh Michelle, thanks so much for your lovely comments . Great praise indeed from a marvellous writer! Thanks for the sharing.

    • anglnwu profile image

      anglnwu 4 years ago

      Very interesting hub...I enjoyed it thoroughly. So much information of Anne Hathaway. Thanks for sharing.

    • expertscolumn profile image

      Stanley Soman 4 years ago from New York

      Your post on Anne is so attractive, thanks for this write up

    • mizjo profile image
      Author

      mizjo 4 years ago from New York City, NY

      Hi, anglnwu, thought I had replied to you, but seemingly hasn't gone through. Well, thanks for your nice comment. It's good to see you here.

    • mizjo profile image
      Author

      mizjo 4 years ago from New York City, NY

      Hi there, expertscolumn, thank you for dropping by. I did enjoy writing this. Anne Hathaway deserves some press. Her husband, a great, respected writer, didn't write one word about her that we know of!

    • eHealer profile image

      Deborah 4 years ago from Las Vegas

      Hey Mizjo, great interpretation of the mysterious Shakespear. There is so much conjecture about his life and his writing, I suppose we will never be completely sure, but Anne is even more fascinating, holding it all together in the absence of her falandering husband! Great Articel and booked, and pinned.Thanks!

    • mizjo profile image
      Author

      mizjo 4 years ago from New York City, NY

      Hi, eHealer, thanks for the support! I loved Shakespeare when I was at school, but the only thing we knew about his wife was her name. I always thought it was a pretty one, and now we have an actress named after her.

      I bet somebody could write an interesting story around Anne Hathaway, and not one of those aforementioned scandal mongers.

    • visionandfocus profile image

      visionandfocus 4 years ago from North York, Canada

      Great hub! I'm a huge Bard fan, and quite obsessed with the controversy surrounding the authorship of the Shakespearean canon, with my bets on Edward de Vere, 17th earl of Oxford. But I digress. Your write-up on Anne is excellent and I enjoyed it tremendously. I took a trip to Stratford-upon-Avon with my husband some years back and watched a play there. I'd love to read more hubs from you about Shakespeare.

      Thanks for sharing. Voted up and a bunch of other things!

    • mizjo profile image
      Author

      mizjo 4 years ago from New York City, NY

      Hi, Vision, my favorite English Lit. writer was the great Bard, and my favorite play was 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'. I was very lucky when I first landed in NYC in the summer of 1982 that 'Shakespeare in the Park', the Joseph Papp theater company, staged an unforgettable production of that play. It was delivered in the open air, using the amazing topography of the area, with very clever lighting, for the magical fairy glade. It was a fantastic, uplifting experience. I hope you enjoyed your Stratford play as much.

      I refuse to believe that anyone else could have authored Shakespeare's works. They must have had laws against literary theft in those days. Besides, Shakespeare's wit, his style and dialogue are unmistakable throughout all his works. With so many contenders for authorship of his writings, would they not have differed one from another?

      How could Shakespeare have so openly staged his works, and received a large income from them, if he had not been the author? Those were Elizabethan times, when duels and street fracases, a knife to the bowels, were common occurrences. Edward de Vere, that spendthrift with never-ending financial woes, would definitely not have allowed the royalties from the plays and other literary works, to have been snatched from his own hands. (He had his own street gangs!)

      No, I firmly believe Shakespeare wrote his own words.

      Wanted to say thanks very much for reading my hub, and for your lovely comments.

      I enjoy your hubs very much too.

    • Thelma Alberts profile image

      Thelma Alberts 4 years ago from Germany

      Very interesting story. I was there in the birthplace of Shakespeare but sad to say, I was not able to visit Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway´s graves. Thanks for sharing. I enjoyed reading your hub. Happy Easter!

    • mizjo profile image
      Author

      mizjo 4 years ago from New York City, NY

      Hi, Thelma, hope you had a happy Easter!

      Isn't Stratford so beautiful? I always loved Shakespeare and everything connected with him. Thanks for visiting my hub. I see from your profile that you lived in Ireland. I lived there too, for 7 years, with my husband and children. The damp cold got to me in the end!

      I'm going to make some time to check out your hubs. Cheers!

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