John Shakespeare was, on more than one occasion, in trouble with the law because of his illegal dealings in wool. There was an extraordinary amount of legislation in Britain surrounding the sale of wool. This was simply because it was such a valuable commodity. It provided the country with an income because it could be exported abroad and provided employment at home. As a result there were many laws and regulations regarding its sale. John Shakespeare spent a considerable amount of money on wool which he then appears to have sold on to others. Since he did not have the right licence to sell wool, he got into trouble with the law.
Guardian article on the discovery of John Shakespeare’s wool dealings:
Kate Pogue. Shakespeare’s Family. Greenwood Publishing group, 2008.
- 18 ‘In 1572 John Shakespeare was brought before the courts twice on charges of illegally dealing in wool. The wool industry was hugely important to England’s prosperity; it gave the country a major export as well as a crucial industry at home, and it was severely regulated. John Shakespeare was not licensed to trade in wool. He was charged and fined for purchasing “a couple of tons” of wool for £210, an
- 19 enormous amount of money when one remembers that the two houses he recently bought cost him £40.he scrambled to find money to pay the fines.’
Entry on Finding Shakespeare concerning the ‘wool-broggers’, their shady dealings and their connection to Shakespeare:
‘The Shakespeares were illegal wool brokers, or broggers. Nicholas Rowe, in 1709, in William’s first biography described his father John as “…a considerable dealer in wool” and materials showing him to be a truly national level dealer have been uncovered. Changes in the regulation of the wool brokerage market, combined with an earlier shift from the export of raw wool to the manufacture and export of whole cloth, profoundly changed the family business. To succeed, indeed just to stay in the large trade end of the business, a brogger needed London representation from the mid 1580s.
Francis Langley became an Alnager in 1585. An Alnager, with his ability to certify the quality and length of adulterated cloth, was the most useful of contacts to a brogger. Of course, this is only true if the Alnager was a crook.
If Langley the Alnager was important to Shakespeare, it appears that Shakespeare was equally important to Langley. Otherwise why would Gardiner have his stepson name Shakespeare first in the suit? Shakespeare’s value was twofold: in the theatre and in the wool and cloth trade.’
Stephen Greenblatt. Will In The World. Random House, 2012.
- 63 ‘In the wake of the wool shortages in the mid-1570s, the authorities decided that the fault lay with the “broggers”, men like John Shakespeare who had already been twice denounced for illegal transactions …
[He was bound over to keep the peace] “Binding over” – roughly equivalent to a restraining order – was a key low-level policing and crime-prevention method in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Upon someone’s swearing an oath that he feared for his life or well-being or the well-being of the entire community, the court could issue an order requiring the suspected malefactor to appear in order to guarantee his good behaviour and to post a bond – a surety – to this end. The surviving records do not reveal who swore an oath against John Shakespeare or why. Was it because of his wool brogging …?’
William Shakespeare died on the 23 April 1616. He was a man of considerable means and in possession of substantial property. His ‘last will & testament’ was drawn up by the local lawyer Francis Collins, using legal language typical of the period. The will lays out the bequests Shakespeare intended for his friends and immediate relatives.
This will dates from January 1616 with revisions made on 25 March of the same year. New research conducted by The National Archives suggests certain elements may date from 1613, following Shakespeare’s purchase of the Blackfriars Gatehouse.
Shakespeare signed the will three times, at the bottom of pages one and two and more elaborately on the final page ‘By me William Shakspeare’. In all only six examples of his signature survive.
This transcript of the will reveals how the document evolved over time, drawing attention to additions, omissions and notable beneficiaries.