He promis’d her marriage…


It was this time of year (and this approximate date) that Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway.

Not this one, obviously. There aren't any verified pictures of Shakespeare's Anne...

Not this one, obviously. There aren’t any verified pictures of Shakespeare’s Anne…

Like everything else connected to Shakespeare, the documentary records are incomplete and a somewhat hazy, and a number of myths and legends have built up around the known events. It’s almost as good as a play!

What is certain is that Anne Hathaway was around 8 years older than Shakespeare, and that he was aged only 18 at the time. Which means he would have needed his father’s permission to marry. And since their first child, Susanna, was born only six months after the wedding their reason for marriage was, shall we say, pressing. However this wasn’t terribly uncommon in England at the time – betrothals and handfasting were regarded as binding as the church service, and Shakespeare even uses this as crucial plot point himself in Measure for Measure.

Since the situation was urgent, and since Canon Law prevent marriages during advent*, Shakespeare and Hathaway were married by license, instead of having the banns read on three consecutive Sundays (the standard practice, and still the basis for the public display of intention to marry which is a legal requirement in the UK). At this point a twist in the tale occurs, since the marriage license issues by the consistory court of the Diocese of Worcester on 27 November 1582 records the brides name as Anne Whately. Most likely this was slip of the clerks pen (since the name Whately occurs elsewhere in the register for that day), but the more fanciful Shakespeare fanatics believe that Whately was Shakespeare’s real love, who he was cruelly thwarted from marrying by his pregnant bit on the side. Since this story cast Shakespeare in a pretty poor light, it makes you wonder exactly why they are so keen to pin it on their hero.

The next day, 28th November, two of Hathaway’s neighbours posted bonds guaranteeing that no lawful claims impeded the marriage, and we can assume the ceremony took place shortly after, although no church records remain for the actual date. According to her father’s will, Anne was left the sum of £6 13s 4d to be paid “at the day of her marriage” – a tidy sum, which fits with the fact the “cottage” she lived in was a substantial twelve-room farmhouse.

I wouldn't turn it down...

I wouldn’t turn it down…

* Actual proper reference here http://www.intratext.com/IXT/LAT0813/_P3J.HTM but it is in Latin.

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