Anne Hathaway - William Shakespeare's Wife

Was Her Marriage to the Bard a Happy One?

Portrait of Shakespeare leaving home
Shakespeare leaving his family. Getty Images

William Shakespeare is arguably the most famous writer of all time, but his private life and marriage to Anne Hathaway isn't necessarily well known to the public. Gain more insight into the circumstances that shaped the bard's life and possibly his writing with this biography of Hathaway.

Anne Hathaway's Birth and Early Life

Hathaway was born circa 1555. She grew up in a farmhouse in Shottery, a small village on the outskirts of Stratford-upon-Avon in Warwickshire, England.

 Her cottage remains on the site and has since become a major tourist attraction. Little is known about Hathaway. Her name crops up a few times in historical records, but historians don’t have any real sense of what type of woman she was.

Shotgun Marriage

Anne Hathaway married William Shakespeare in November 1582. She was 26, and he was 18. The couple lived in Stratford-upon-Avon, which is roughly 100 miles northwest of London. It appears the two had a shotgun wedding. Evidently, they conceived a child out of wedlock and a wedding was arranged despite the fact that marriages were not traditionally performed at that time of year. The couple would go on to have a total of three children (two daughters, one son).

Special permission had to be asked from the Church, and friends and family had to financially guarantee the wedding and sign a surety for £40 – a huge sum in those days.

Some historians believe that the marriage was an unhappy one and the couple was forced together by the pregnancy.

Although there is no evidence to support this, some historians go as far as to suggest that Shakespeare left for London to escape the day-to-day pressures of his unhappy marriage. This is, of course, wild speculation!

Did Shakespeare Run Away to London?

We know that William Shakespeare lived and worked in London for most of his adult life.

This has led to speculation about the state of his marriage to Hathaway.

Broadly, there are two camps of thought:

  • The Failed Marriage: Some speculate that a difficult marriage in Stratford-upon-Avon compelled the young William to seek his fortune away from home. London would have been many days ride and was perhaps welcome escape for William who was trapped by a shotgun wedding and children. Indeed, there is evidence (although scant) that William was unfaithful while in London, and would compete with his business partner for the attention of London’s women.
  • The Loving Marriage: If the above is true, it does not explain why William kept such close ties with the town. It seems he regularly returned to share his new-found wealth with Anne and his children. Land investments in the Stratford-upon-Avon area also prove that he planned to retire to the town once his working life in London finished.

Children

Six months after the marriage, their first daughter Susanna was born. Twins, Hamnet and Judith soon followed in 1585. Hamnet died at age 11, and four years later Shakespeare wrote Hamlet, a play that may have been inspired by the grief of losing his son. 

Death

Anne Hathaway outlived her husband.

She died Aug. 6, 1623. She is buried next to Shakespeare’s grave inside Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon. Like her husband, she has an inscription upon her tomb, some of which is written in Latin:

Here lyeth the body of Anne wife of William Shakespeare who departed this life the 6th day of August 1623 being of the age of 67 years.

Breasts, O mother, milk and life thou didst give. Woe is me – for how great a boon shall I give stones? How much rather would I pray that the good angel should move the stone so that, like Christ's body, thine image might come forth! But my prayers are unavailing. Come quickly, Christ, that my mother, though shut within this tomb may rise again and reach the stars.