In my post of 29 July, “Discoveries,” I spoke about our quick visit to the Oxford Museum in the UK, in May this year. On that day, a Friday, we left the Museum in Woodstock, Oxfordshire, before midday to go in search of William Shakespeare’s birthplace in Henley Street, at Stratford-upon-Avon in Warwickshire.
Stratford-upon-Avon was not much more than an hour’s drive from Woodstock, but we looked around on the way, and seeing a small brown heritage trail sign that pointed the way to Anne Hathaway’s Cottage at Shottery, a small hamlet on the out-skirts of Stratford, we decided to visit there first. So we followed the little brown signs that became smaller and smaller in size, and fewer in number, and which seemed to us as if they were pointing in all different directions. We took many wrong turns and stopped for directions on a number occasions because the mad woman in the GPS was, as usual, absolutely hopeless. Eventually, after turning this way and then that way, and then the wrong way, we reacquainted ourselves with much of the territory we had already covered and finally got back on track and stumbled upon the place we were looking for, we found it almost by accident.
Anne Hathaway’s Cottage is in actuality the twelve-room farmhouse that was once the Hathaway family home. It stands on what is left of Hewland Farm, and which was once a very large property that was owned by Anne Hathaway’s father, Richard Hathaway, a prosperous farmer and land-owner. We parked the car in the asphalt car park that has been carved out of the property, then walked up the garden path to the entrance into the old thatched farmhouse. We noted the old, old timbers in the cottage walls and the lacings of the wicket garden fences.
I do not know how many acres of the original farm and woodlands and gardens of Hewland Farm are left now, but on looking around I would have said that the land on which Anne Hathaway’s Cottage and Gardens now stands is no more than about ten or so acres–of course, I could be wrong, there may have been far more to the property than Bob and I saw. Later, I searched the internet and found the following information:
The beautiful half timbered cottage was in fact a 12 roomed farmhouse with several bedrooms that had its origins in the mid 15th century with alterations in evidence during the early 17th century.
In Shakespeare’s time it was known as Newland’s Farm, a farm of 90 acres. It was owned by the Hathaway family until 1746 when the male line became extinct on the death of John Hathaway. (http://www.cotswolds.info/places/stratford-upon-avon/shakespeare-houses.shtml)
Nevertheless, at Anne Hathaway’s Cottage Shottery, the volunteer house guides (who are all historians) assured us that other than for the reduced acreage, everything–the placement and layout of the vegetable and flower gardens, the orchard with its many different types of fruit trees, the now small-holding that was once home to the Hathaway’s ducks and geese and chickens, the pig-sties that now stand pig-less, the fields where the Hathaway sheep once grazed, the old stables in which the Hathaway horses once dozed of a night, and the Hathaway’s wood-lands–all is exactly as it would have been in Anne Hathaway’s day. Even the old-fashioned varieties of fruit and vegetables and flowers, were the same as those Anne and her family would have known. The old wooden garden shed was indeed also the genuine item, or so I was told, and as I do not doubt in the slightest. I asked if it had been built by Farmer Richard Hathaway himself. No one knew.
Little is actually known about Anne Hathaway, but what is known is that her immediate family were reasonably wealthy farmers and land-owners; that her father married twice, and that he had died early in his middle-age; that Anne was raised to fill a domestic and managerial role as a well-off farmer’s wife; that after the death of her father the unmarried Anne stayed living at the farm in the farmhouse with her step-mother and many younger half-siblings, and that Anne’s brother Bartholomew then returned to live with the family to take care of them and manage the farm property and affairs for his mother, Richard’s widow, Joan; that under the terms of her father’s will Anne was to receive (what was considered to be back then) a substantial dowry on the day of her marriage; and that Anne somehow met William Shakespeare who courted and then married her. Below: William Shakespeare’s “Courting Chair.” This highly carved, ornate chair, a genuine piece, was found in a museum sometime last century. The chair now stands in what is said to be its original place, in Anne Hathaway’s Cottage. I wasn’t permitted to sit in it as I would have liked, Shakespeare’s seat was strictly off-limits to all bums.
Inside the house, the guides told us that many of the pieces of furniture we were looking at were the real McCoy from Shakespeare’s and Anne Hathaway’s houses, but that some of the pieces were replicas. It was difficult for Bob and me to tell which was which.
In Anne Hathaway’s day, the farmhouse was considered to be quite large: but since it housed a very large family, it is not exactly a large home by today’s standards. So, what were the sleeping arrangements, where did everybody fit back then, exactly? This is what we were told by the guides: All the Hathaway men (presumably, this did not include the master, Richard Hathaway) slept downstairs on straw pallets on the kitchen floor in front of the kitchen fire. All the Hathaway women and young children slept in the upstairs bedrooms. Whenever there were visitors, though, all the male visitors slept close to the kitchen fire, and all the Hathaway men slept in the room in front of the kitchen at the bottom of the stairs which led up to the bedrooms above, and where the womenfolk were sleeping. No male visitor or sneakthief or thug or marauder, or would-be suitor, would be able to visit the women in the bedrooms upstairs without first climbing all over the well-armed Hathaway menfolk. Ah! That was chivalry, there is no doubt about it–I’m almost certain any woman would feel well cared for and safe under those arrangements.
William Shakespeare was 18 when he married the 26 year old Anne Hathaway.
It is more than possible that the Hathaway and the Shakespeare families were acquainted with each other. The families lived in the same region, and both families were well-known and respected in the district and the surrounding villages. It is also quite possible that Shakespeare’s father, John Shakespeare, may have bought some of the skins for his trade as a glove-maker from Richard Hathaway of Hewland Farm. Even so, the real story of how Shakespeare met and then came to marry Anne Hathaway, or even if he originally intended to marry her or some other lass called Anne Whately, or if Anne Hathaway and Anne Whately were actually the one and the same, is a matter that is hotly debated in some circles.
Historians have scrambled all over the issue, and some say Shakespeare was a little reluctant to walk down the aisle, but that he nevertheless did walk down the aisle with Anne because much to his own middle-class family’s embarrassment and horror, and the Hathaway family’s fury, lusty young Shakespeare had somehow jumped the starting gun. The social mores of the day, the wagging tongues of the gossips in the area, and the Shakespeare and Hathaway families good-names and elevated standing in the community (not to mention the weapons owned by the male members of the Hathaway family,) dictated the necessity for a hasty marriage between William and Anne. In those days, it was socially unacceptable for a woman of Anne’s standing and wealth to show evidence that she was bearing a child outside of wedlock. Germaine Greer howls down historians who take this perspective.
Below: we found this simple hand-worked sampler tucked away in a corner of Anne Hathaway’s Cottage. Apparently, it is not known who worked the piece, or when, but it had clearly been placed in the cottage for effect.
In her book Shakespeare’s Wife, produced by Bloomsbury Publishing PLC in 2007, Germaine Greer goes in to bat for Anne Hathaway. Greer notes that an examination of surviving records of the 1580s from Stratford-upon-Avon and the surrounding villages indicate that a “handfast” or probationary marriage and pregnancy were, in those times, frequent precursors to marriage. Greer points out that these records show that a large number of brides went to the altar already pregnant, that Autumn and not Spring was the most common time for couples to marry, and that even though Shakespeare had gotten Anne with child, marriage may have always been his intention.
I found this blog about Greer’s book on the net:
… Shakespeare is above all the poet of marriage. Before him, there were few comedies or tragedies about wooing or wedding. And yet he explored the sacrament in all its aspects, spiritual, psychological, sexual, sociological, and was the creator of some of the most tenacious and intelligent heroines in English literature. Is it possible, therefore, that Ann, who has been mocked and vilified by scholars for centuries, was the inspiration?
Despite the many stories about Shakespeare’s roving eye post-marriage and his numerous affairs of the heart (by all accounts he was indeed a romantic lad), the marriage between him and Anne couldn’t have been all bad because he did, after all, return to her side after he came back from his stint in London where he made his name as a playwright: some scholars have it that during this period, he made regular visits from London to Stratford to see wife anyway. Whatever the truth is, the fact remains that he did write her a sonnet that is quite beautiful:
Those lips that Love’s own hand did make,
Breathed forth the sound that said ‘I hate’,
To me that languished for her sake:
But when she saw my woeful state,
Straight in her heart did mercy come,
Chiding that tongue that ever sweet
Was used in giving gentle doom;
And taught it thus anew to greet;
‘I hate’ she altered with an end,
That followed it as gentle day,
Doth follow night, who like a fiend
From heaven to hell is flown away.
‘I hate’, from hate away she threw,
And saved my life, saying ‘not you’.