Monday, 3 January 2011

Shakespeare - who do you think you are? Part 2

I declare an error in my August 9th blog about the possibility that William Shakespeare was descended directly from King Alfred the Great. I have now revised this idea and will alert readers to this revision. Tracking back more thoroughly, I find that Shakespeare's Arden line descended from Anglo Saxon Leofric, Earl of Mercia and possibly from his wife, Lady Godiva of Coventry, whose famous, daring naked ride through Coventry was due to being a lady of great Christian compassion. But Leofric was not, apparently, descended from a daughter of Alfred the Great.

I have now tracked back another even more fascinating line through William Shakespeare's great great grandmother, Eleanor Hampden, who married Walter de Arden. She was directly descended from Alberic 1 and II, Counts of Dammartin, in northern France and from Constance, Princess of France. Constance's father was Robert the Pious, King of France (972-1031) (20 generations back from William Shakespeare) who was a poet and composer. His line also goes on, back to William 1 of Provence, who founded Provence and purged Southern France and the Alps of Saracens, and on to Hugh Capet, "usurper" King of France and great grandson of the Emperor Charlemagne.

The maternal line goes to Rollo of Normandy the father of our British monarchy through Adelaide of Aquitane. It also reaches back to Richard Fitz Gilbert, Lord of Clare and Tonbridge, also an ancestor of the Earls of Pembroke. This all reminds me of the apparently amusing speech in "Henry V" in which the Archbishop traces King Henry's line back to a long list of little known French kings and "Pepin". I am now going to check if indeed Pepin was an "ancestor" of the Bard too.

There is also some evidence that the falcon on William Shakespeare's coat of arms is a reminder of the four falcons on the Webb family coat of arms. My earlier post noted that both Shakespeare's grandmothers were Webb sisters - Mary and Abigail Webb - since Shakespeare's parents were first cousins. Mary Webb died before he was born but Abigail died in 1595 when her grandson was already a well known poet and impressing the London stage with his history plays. He must have known her very well indeed.

The Stratford Webbs were knights and officers, notably under Henry VIII. The poet's great grandfather, thought to be Sir Henry Alexander Webb, married his great aunt, Grace Arden, who died at Windsor Castle aged 27, while her husband was serving royalty. Sir Henry was probably usher to the highly reformed Queen, Catherine Parr, who wrote an extant sympathetic letter about him to her husband King Henry VIII. He could have known the young Edward VI and Princess Elizabeth.

Many Webb descendants left England and Stratford-on-Avon in 1629 to help build up the New World, notably Virginia. One first and several second cousins who must have known William Shakespeare in Stratford, died in the New World. They turned out to be adventurous political leaders, traders with Indians, ships builder/designers, town clerks, attorneys and successful merchants. Many of their Webb descendants fought as privates, as well as officers, in the American Civil War and some were unrepentant slave masters.

Though my new theory for Shakespeare's ancestry has now forfeited King Alfred the Great, it has found Virginia, (possibly) Lady Godiva, French Counts, Princesses, Kings and Queens, Rollo, the Viking and the Emperor Charlemagne. Clearly, there was quite a strong "military" vein in this family.

As I said in my last blog on this topic, wouldn't the Bard have been pleased, since he loved the concept of royalty and France. Did he somehow know that the Ardens were descended from French Counts and Kings, which is why they figure in his plays?

Aristocratic families in those days did keep genealogies. Did he visit Park Hall, the Arden seat near Birmingham and see it?

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