On this day in history : 23rd April 1616 – The death of poet, playwright and actor William Shakespeare – widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language….

William Shakespeare – Public domain

Nobody knows for certain Shakespeare’s exact date of birth but he died on or around his 52nd birthday…. He was living amidst a great scandal at the time of his death, involving his youngest daughter….

Judith had recently married local man Thomas Quiney – who had got himself into a spot of bother…. Thomas had been found guilty by the Trinity Church Court of fathering another woman’s baby…. To make matters worse for him the woman, Margaret Wheeler, had died in childbirth along with her baby…. Thomas was ordered to do a penance – for three Sundays in a row he had to stand in front of the church congregation clad in a white sheet….

Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon Image credit : DeFacto – own work CC BY-SA 4.0

On the 25th of March 1616, barely a month before his death, Shakespeare had rewritten his will…. Possibly it was his daughter’s predicament that prompted him to do so – he may have worried for her future….

“In the name of god Amen I William Shakespeare of Stratford Upon Avon in the countrie of Warr’gent in perfect health and memorie god by praysed doe make and Ordayne this my last will and testament in manner and forme followeing that ys to saye first I Comend my Soule into the hands of god my Creator hoping and assuredlie beleeving through thonelie merittes of Jesus Christe my Saviour to be made partaker of lyfe everlastinge And my bodye to the Earthe whereof yt ys made”….

His three-page will detailed all of his worldly goods…. It was written in Shakespeare’s hand but likely drafted by his lawyer Francis Collins…. He died a very wealthy man….

The only mention Anne Hathaway got was the bequeathment of his ‘second-best bed’…. This might seem harsh – but it could actually be seen as an act of affection…. The more wealthy would keep their best bed in the guest room – the second-best being the one the married couple shared together…. By leaving his wife their bed in his will it meant nobody could take it away from her…. Shakespeare would have known that under the laws of the time, Anne, as his wife was legally entitled to a third of his estate and the matrimonial home – she was well-provided for…. Indeed she lived in the house until her death in 1623….

The other main heirs in his will were his eldest daughter, Susanna and her husband, Dr. John Hall…. To Judith he left £100 and a further £50 if she made no claim on the cottage…. He left the rights to another house for her to live in and a further £150 if she should live for another three years…. He had effectively cut her husband out of his will but at the same time made sure she was to be alright…. He also left to her a silver bowl that she had always admired….

He left various other bequeathments…. £30 to his sister and the right to the home she lived in – and £5 to each of his three nephews…. The rest of his silver collection he left to his granddaughter, Elizabeth…. Further token gifts were left to friends and neighbours….

Nobody knows for sure what Shakespeare actually died from…. One theory is that he contracted a fever…. John Ward, vicar of Holy Trinity Church, recorded: “Shakespeare, Drayton and Ben Jonson had a merry meeting and it seems drank too hard, for Shakespeare died of a fever contracted”…. Indeed it seems Shakespeare had been on a massive drinking binge with fellow playwrights Ben Jonson and Michael Drayton…. They had much to celebrate as Jonson had just been made poet laureate….

However, it is also possible that Shakespeare suspected he may be coming to the end of his life, which is why he changed his will when he did…. It has to be noted that there was a severe outbreak of typhus in 1616….

Shakespeare’s burial was recorded in Stratford’s parish register as being on the 25th of April 1616…. He was buried under the chancel floor of the Holy Trinity Church….

Shakespeare’s grave – Image credit: David Jones CC BY-2.0

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