Shakespeare Family

Who was Shakespeare's Family?

Portrait of Shakespeare During Play Reading. Getty Images

Who was William Shakespeare’s immediate family? Did he have children? Are there direct descendants around today?

William led two very different lives. There was his home, family life in Stratford-upon-Avon; and there was his professional life in London.

Other than one account from a town clerk in 1616 that Shakespeare was in London with his son-in-law, John Hall, there is no evidence that his family had much to do with London. All of his property was in Stratford, including a large family home called New Place. When purchased in 1597, it was the biggest house in the town!

Shakespeare’s Parents:

  • Father: John Shakespeare
  • Mother: Mary Arden

There is no exact record of when John and Mary married, but it is estimated to be in about 1557. The family business evolved over time, but it is widely recognised that John was a glove maker and leather maker. 

John was very active in Stratford-upon-Avon’s civic duties and in 1567 he became mayor of the town (or High Bailiff, as he would have been titled then). Whilst there are no records, it is presumed that John’s high civic standing would have enabled the young William to study at the local grammar school.

Shakespeare’s Siblings:

  • Brother: Gilbert Shakespeare (born in 1566)
  • Sister: Joan Shakespeare (born in 1569)
  • Sister: Anne Shakespeare (born in 1571)
  • Brother: Richard Shakespeare (born in 1574)
  • Brother: Edmund Shakespeare (born in 1580)

Infant mortality was common in Elizabethan England, and John and Mary lost two children before William was born. The siblings above lived until they were adults, with the exception of Anne who died at the age of eight.

Shakespeare’s Wife:

  • Wife: Anne Hathaway

When he was just 18 years old, William married 27-year-old Anne Hathaway in a shotgun wedding. Anne was the daughter of a farming family in the nearby village of Shottery. She fell pregnant with their first child outside of wedlock and the couple had to obtain special permission from the Bishop to marry. There is no surviving wedding certificate.

Shakespeare’s Children:

  • Daughter: Susanna Shakespeare (born in 1583)
  • Daughter: Judith Shakespeare – Twin (born in 1585)
  • Son: Hamnet Shakespeare – Twin (born in 1585)

The child conceived out of wedlock to William Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway was daughter named Susanna. A few years later, they had twins. However, in the summer of 1596, Hamnet died, aged 11. It is thought that William was grief stricken and his experience can be read in his characterisation of Hamlet, written not long after.

Susanna married John Hall in 1607; Judith married Thomas Quiney in 1616.
Shakespeare’s Grandchildren:

  • Elizabeth Hall (born in 1608)
  • Shakespeare Quiney (born in 1616)
  • Richard Quiney (born in 1618)
  • Thomas Quiney (born in 1620)

William had only one grandchild from his eldest daughter, Susanna. Elizabeth married Thomas Nash in 1626, and later remarried to John Bernard in 1649. From William’s youngest daughter, Judith, there were three grandsons. The eldest was named Shakespeare because the family name had been lost when Judith married, but he died in infancy.

Shakespeare’s Grandparents

  • Grandfather: Richard Shakespeare
  • Grandfather: Robert Arden

Above William’s parents in the family tree, information becomes a little sparse. We can’t be sure of the names of William’s grandmothers because the “men of the house” would have taken control of legal affairs, and so only their names will have appeared on historical documents. We know that the Arden’s were wealthy fathers and the Shakespeare family held civic responsibilities in the town. It is likely that this combined power was what enabled them to obtain special permission from the Bishop for their children to marry to stop the baby being born out of wedlock; this would have brought shame on their family and their reputation at the time.

Shakespeare’s Living Descendants:

Wouldn’t it be great to discover that you are a descendant of the Bard? Well, technically, it is possible.

The direct bloodline ends with William’s grandchildren who either did not marry, or did not have children to continue the line. You have to look further up the family tree to William’s sister, Joan.

Joan married William Hart and had four children. This line continued and there are many of Joan’s descendants alive today.

Could you be related to William Shakespeare?