arms, Shakespeare's

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John Shakespeare (1530—1601)


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Shakespeare's father approached the Heralds’ Office about a coat of arms shortly after becoming bailiff of Stratford-upon-Avon in 1568, but did not proceed far. He (or perhaps his son on his behalf) renewed the application in 1596. Sir William Dethick, Garter King-of-Arms, granted the request. Two rough drafts survive.

The shield was to be ‘gold on a bend sables, a spear of the first steeled argent, and for his crest or cognizance a falcon, his wings displayed argent, standing on a wreath of his colours, supporting a spear gold, steeled as aforesaid, set upon a helmet with mantles and tassels as hath been accustomed and doth more plainly appear depicted on this margin’.

A rough sketch of the shield and crest appears on both drafts. The motto, which Shakespeare is not known to have used, is ‘Non Sans Droit’–‘Not Without Right’. The grant of arms gave to John Shakespeare and his family the status of gentlefolk.

In 1599, John Shakespeare applied for the right to impale his arms with those of his wife's family, the Ardens, but this seems not to have been allowed. His right to arms was challenged in 1602, but the official reply was that he was ‘a magistrate in Stratford-upon-Avon. A Justice of Peace, he married a daughter and heir of Arden, and was of good substance and habilite.’

Subjects: Shakespeare Studies and Criticism.

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