Please note that I have now issued a corrigendum about this blog (see 3 January 2011). I do not now think that Shakespeare can be traced to King Alfred the Great, but there are other equally exciting discoveries. If you are interested, you might like to read this - and then read my new blog for 3 January.
Over the weekend, it struck me that a TV programme called "Shakespeare: Who do you think you are?" would be very interesting. Simple research has turned up some discoveries about The Bard unknown to the general public. I have never read any of these facts below, during all my research on his life. Some of it needs double checking but the hints of something fascinating are already there.
I had assumed that Shakespeare's mother's family, the Arden family, were simply a landed family, one cut above the rest of the surrounding Stratford folk. The Mormon International Geneological "Family Search" website is a very useful tool. So using it, I tracked the Arden family back from Mary Arden, to prove, as I thought, that they were Norman- French landed gentry. I worked out where the Bard's "branch line" left the main Ardens of "Park Hall Place"(at "Walter de Arden"). From there, I went back through the ancestors to a Saxon noble family who survived the Conquest with their lands intact, around Birmingham (see "The Arden Family" on Wikipedia). Using another website, I worked out they seemed to be directly descended from the Saxon Earls and Kings of Mercia, and before that from the daughter of Alfred the Great. Since Alfred the Great was our first great writer, church builder and educator, wouldn't Shakespeare be thrilled, in this imaginary TV programme, to know that King Alfred was his grandfather (X 16). Well, he may have been.
I worked, then, on William's parents, who turned out to be first cousins, as their mothers were sisters, Mary and Abigail Webb, daughters, probably, of Sir Alexander Webb, military knight who served Henry VII and VIII. Abigail and all the Webbs were born in Stratford. She was baptised there in the parish Church where her grandson is buried, in 1515. They are the Stratford link in the family. Either her father or brother served the Royal Family at Court. William must have known his father's mother (Abigail Shakespeare, nee Webb) who died aged 85 in 1590, when he was 26.
I am still checking this out, but it seems that she was the sister of Sir Henry Webb, Baronet who married Robert Arden's sister, Great Aunt Grace. Sir Alexander Webb, of Stratford, was descended from Norman stock, Crusader knights, educated and refined people who had worked for French confederacies (which I think means the Huguenot international confederacy), who had come from a richly landed Devon family related to the Raleighs. His father served reformed Queen Catherine Parr as her "trusty and beloved usher" who tried to help him get these West Country lands back. Shakespeare could have found out about royalty, court manners and life and the values of chivalry from his Granny Shakespeare.
Genetically, William Shakespeare was 50% the Webb sisters. He had six great grandparents, not the usual eight. Perhaps the dramatic "conversation" going on his head was theirs? The Webbs who had been honourable, pious landed and military people, refined knights and their ladies, for centuries more recently probably reformed, in religion. Their coat of arms was a bold Christian Cross, a crown, falcons of Palestine (Shakespeare put a falcon and a spear on his crest) and an eagle.
Finally, I found that Mary Arden's sister, Margaret, married Alexander Webb Jnr and their children emigrated to America, presumably as Puritans. A descendant of theirs, Revd Webb co-founded Yale University. He, too, was descended from King Alfred the Great, through Robert Arden.
A number of very misguided people have spent their lives trying to prove that the "man from Stratford" was a nobody and therefore the Earl of Oxford wrote the plays. With Shakespeare's education (ref Schoenbaum's books about it) and this noble, well connected and learned family tree, which mixes greatness, royalty, Norman and Saxon warriors and the literate few, it would seem that if Shakespeare had not been a leading poet and educator, it would have been even more surprising. He had every advantage.