William and Anne Shakespeare had three children. Their first child was Susanna, born a mere six months after the wedding of her parents. She was christened on May 26, 1583, and twins arrived in January, 1585. They were baptized on February 2 of that year and named Hamnet and Judith, after two very close friends of William: the Stratford baker, Hamnet Sadler and his wife, Judith. Tragically, Hamnet Shakespeare died of unknown causes in August 1596, at the age of eleven. The events of his short life are unrecorded.
The Life of Susanna Shakespeare (Hall)
Witty beyond her sex, but that’s not all,
Wise to salvation was good Mistress Hall.
(Susanna Hall’s Epitaph)
On June 5, 1607, Susanna married the famed and prosperous Stratford physician John Hall. Susanna’s marriage to Dr. Hall must have pleased Shakespeare tremendously, for Shakespeare appointed John and Susanna executors of his will. Susanna moved into John’s home (Hall’s Croft) and on February 21, 1608 gave birth to a baby girl. Shakespeare’s granddaughter, Elizabeth Hall, was baptized at Holy Trinity Church in Stratford.
Shakespeare left the clever and business savvy Susanna most of his property upon his death in 1616, and she and John left Hall’s Croft to live at Shakespeare’s home, known as New Place, where they oversaw the affairs of Susanna’s mother. With respect to her literacy, we know that Susanna could sign her own name and, if we also consider her reputation as a highly intelligent woman, it is plausible that she could have enjoyed the printed work of both her father and husband, the two most celebrated men in Stratford.
Dr. Hall left detailed records of his medical practice which reveal that, astonishingly, he had developed a treatment for scurvy made from local grasses and plants high in ascorbic acid, over one hundred years before James Lind’s discovery that the disease could be treated with citrus fruit. When Susanna herself contracted scurvy, John’s treatment was a complete success. 1
John Hall died suddenly in 1635 and was buried close to Shakespeare at Holy Trinity Church. Susanna died in 1649, at the good age of sixty-six, with comfort knowing that her only child was a remarkable success.
Elizabeth Hall lived a noteworthy life indeed. John and Susanna made sure Elizabeth was well educated and we have evidence that “her handwriting was well formed and clear like that of her father” 2. Her first husband was the wealthy barrister Thomas Nash, son of Shakespeare’s good friend, Anthony Nash. They were wed in 1626 and moved into New Place, where Nash died in 1645. Four years later Elizabeth married her second husband, John Barnard, who was knighted in 1661 by Charles II. Sir and Lady Bernard took up primary residence at Abington Manor, John’s sprawling estate in Northamptonshire, with his eight children from a previous marriage. Elizabeth herself had no children and was Shakespeare’s last descendant. She died in 1670, just days short of her sixty-second birthday.
The Life of Judith Shakespeare (Quiney)
Shakespeare’s daughter Judith appears to have had a gloomy and tragic life. Unlike her sister’s marriage to the upstanding Dr. Hall, Judith’s marriage to a vintner named Thomas Quiney in February 1616 caused Shakespeare no end of scandal. Quiney did not receive the license necessary for a wedding during Lent before his marriage, and thus the couple were excommunicated a month later. Moreover, Quiney was prosecuted for ‘carnal copulation’ with a local woman named Margaret Wheeler, who had died in March along with her baby by Quiney. He confessed, and was sentenced to perform public penance. His penalty, however, was commuted to a small fine and private penance. “It has been speculated that this scandal may have hastened Shakespeare’s death, for he died a few weeks later, after changing his will to protect Judith’s inheritance from Quiney.” 3
Thomas and Judith Quiney had three children named Shakespeare, Richard, and Thomas. Shakespeare Quiney died in infancy and was buried in 1617; Richard and Thomas died within weeks of each other (aged twenty-one and nineteen) and were buried in 1639. With the death of her husband sometime around 1652, Judith was alone. She lived to the amazing age of seventy-seven, and was buried on February 9, 1662. Sadly, there was no epitaph praising her wit and wisdom.
1. Mitchell, p. 76. Mitchell’s book includes many detailed accounts of John Hall’s remedies and excerpts from his personal case-book.
2. Mitchell, p. 49.
3. Boyce, p. 529.
Bentley, Gerald Eades. Shakespeare: A Biographical Handbook. New Haven: Yale UP, 1968.
Boyce, Charles. Shakespeare A to Z. New York: Roundtable Press, 1990.
Brooke, Tucker. Shakespeare of Stratford. New Haven: Yale UP, 1926.
Burgess, Anthony. Shakespeare. London: Jonathan Cape, 1970.
Mitchell, C. Martin. The Shakespeare Circle. Birmingham: Cornish Brothers, 1949.
Rowse, A.L. Shakespeare the Man. London: Macmillan, 1973.