History - Shakespeare

holy trinity entrance

Shakespeare

William Shakespeare, the Bard of Avon, was born in Henley Street, Stratford-upon-Avon in 1564 on St. George's day (23rd April) and died on the same day in 1616.

Or at least, so it is alleged. No records of births and deaths were made in those days. We do, however have records of his baptism on (April 26th 1564: Gulielimus, filius Johannes Shakspeare) and of his burial on (25th April 1616: Will Shakspeare, Gent). Both these events took place in Holy Trinity Church. It can be fairly safely assumed that he worshipped here as a boy and young man, and again after he retired to his home town.

On the closure of the College by Henry VIII the tithe (tax) income privileges were sold off. The duty of employing a Priest and looking after the Chancel went with the privileges. A share in them was purchased in 1605 for #440 by the son of a local glove-maker, one William Shakespeare. This, and not his ability as a poet and playwright, gave him the right of burial in the chancel. Until the 1790`s there stood a charnel house to the south of the chancel. Here the bones of those dug up to make room for new graves were laid to rest. Shakespeare obviously didn't like this idea and had a curse put on his grave slab - not at all uncommon at the time.

This charnel-house, like the College building, has now gone. The right of burial was inherited by Shakespeare's family. His wife, Ann Hathaway, daughter Suzanna and son-in-law Dr John Hall and Thomas Nash (first husband of Shakespeare's Grand-daughter Elizabeth) are buried in the chancel alongside him.

Within a few years of his death and during Ann's lifetime, a memorial to Shakespeare was erected and is, therefore, thought to be a good likeness. The sun-tanned countenance is said to be quite genuine.

It has to be said that William Shakespeare probably didn't do a very good job of looking after the chancel. A few years after his death it was reported to be in ruinous condition. However, he has more than made up for it since. Hundreds of visitors come each year to visit his grave. The contributions that these visitors make allow us to keep up-to-date with the day-to-day maintenance of the building (paying for heating, lighting cleaning and staffing the Church during the week).

The Birthday Weekend.

Each year, on the Saturday closest to St. George's Day, Holy Trinity plays host to a marvellous pageant as thousands process through the town to lay flowers on Shakespeare's grave. The procession is led by the boys of the King Edward VI Grammar School (where he was educated). It includes children from the other local schools, representatives from just about every other organisation in the town, members of the company of the RSC and ambassadors from many countries. All file through the church with their floral tributes, to the ringing of the bells and music from the organ. The following day, many of them re-assemble to remember William Shakespeare and to give thanks to God for his life and work at the annual Shakespeare Service.