Shakespeare’s Church Timeline
714 - Bishop Ecguuine of Worcester is granted land sufficient for 20 families in ‘Aet-Stratford’.
845 - King Berhtulf of Mercia grants Bishop Heaberht of Worcester privileges to the ‘monks of Ufera Stret Ford on the banks of the Eafene.’
1068 - Stratford is mentioned in the Domesday Book: ‘in demesne two carucates with twenty-one villains and a priest’ – but there is no mention of a church building
1139 - Celibacy for all priests is now official church policy
1214 - The right to hold a fair around the Feast of Holy Trinity is granted, followed by others at St Augustine, Holy Cross and Ascension Day, probably held in the churchyard.
1269 - Founding of the Gild(Guild) ‘in honour of God, our Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Cross’. Robert de Stratford its first Master.
1290 - Edward I expels all Jews from England.
1295 - Annual gift of 4 pennies to the light before the Lady Altar and that of St. Martin by Robert de Walleys
1312-13 - North aisle reconstruction. Rowland Jorse, Archbishop of Armagh, granted forty days’ indulgence to all who would visit its altar or aid its erection.
1320-1331 - Reconstruction of Tower and South Aisle
1331/2 - October 8 John de Stratforde, Bishop of Winchester, founded a chantry in Holy Trinity ‘for the praise of God, the welfare of himself and his brother Robert and for the souls of his mother and father’. Annexed to the altar of St Thomas Becket in the South Aisle, it went on to become the College.
The College at Holy Trinity rapidly gains position in the town, property and the ‘advowson’, or right to appoint the Rector/Warden/Dean. Its possessions at the time of dissolution (when Henry VIII disbanded all monastaries and convents) included the ‘Mill at Clyfford’ when it had an annual income of £128. It had a Warden and Sub-Warden appointed by the patron, and three other priests appointed by the Warden.
1338 - Gilds (Guilds) are amalgamated as ‘The Gild of the Holy Cross, the Blessed Mary and St. John the Baptist.’
Delivered to the proctors all the vestments, altar cloths, chalices, with other goods belonging in the church for our lady altar and saint John altar.
‘All thes pteyneth to our Lady awter’
First copes (cloaks) of red and green with lions of gold
Another cope of red Bawkyn with birds of gold
Another cope green and blue with lilies in pots and a vestment with lilies in pots
A vestment of blue cloth of gold
A vestment of white damask
A pall branched with roses and flowers
An altar cloth of dyapre work
Altar cloth of plain thread
Two short towels of samphry work
An old towel of dyapre work
An altar cloth with a frontal of silk sown to it
A cloth to hang before our Lady in lent
Three pillows of silk
A gilded chalice
A mass book
A brush of pedok fedurs (peacock feathers)
A case of embroidered silk with pearls for corpores (corporals)
A pax (pyx – small metal box for consecrated bread)
Two standards of latten
Two small latten candlesticks, an old gras(?)
A green chasuble with serpents heads
An old towel
A chasuble of green and white cadas with an awbe and ye repel to it
An altar cloth of dyapre work with a frontal
An altar cloth of white thread
A cloth of blue card to cover the altar
A pair of pewter cruets
Two stained cloths to hang before the altar (banners) one of our lady with three marys, another of the coronation of our Lady
‘..to ye rode awter..’ (The rood altar or Holy Cross)
a pair of vestments of red powdered silk
a pair of vestments of sangwen cadas
an altar cloth with a frontal sewed to it
two old altar cloths with dyapre work
cloth of blue bokeram to cover the altar
a cloth stained with the Trinity and a crucifix
a stained lytell
a pair of cruest
a hair cloth next to the altar
a small coffer
a latten candlestick
Altar of St John
two pairs of vestments, one of red silk another of green and red
a pall with beasts and branches
two laten candlesticks
a mass book with a gilt chalice
altar cloths with a frontal sewed to it
a dyapre work towel
a plain cloth towel
a stained cope of St.Gregory
a cloth of green and blue for Lent to hand before the images
two altar cloths with a frontal beaten with gold
a stained cloth hanging before the altar with St. John Baptist with another
a corpores with a case of silk
a case of twigs to bear the chalice in
In addition: two coffers in the rood loft. NB. All this before the richest period of church furnishing had taken off!
1352 - College building is constructed by Ralph de Stratford, Bishop of London.
1420’s - The right to say mass in the Guild Chapel is denoted by the Chalice and Host picture on south wall of its chancel.
1469 - Money left for embroidery images of the Trinity for Trinity Altar
‘A pair of organs’ must have been present as Richard Sharpe, ‘pulsator organorum’ had a yearly stipend of £6 granted him by the king on the dissolution of the college.
1485 - Construction of new chancel at HT
1491 - Death of Thomas Balsall, Dean of the College. For Balsall’s funeral, each priest received 20p, the four clerks 8p, boys with surplice 4p, without 2p. The whole choir were to sing masses for thirty days, and all priests of the Guild were to be present. The anniversary of his death was to be kept for ten years.
1502 - The larger bells in the tower called people to church. We have a record from 1502 of money left for their restoration at Holy Trinity.
1509 - Death of Henry VII and Accession of Henry VIII
1516 - Oct 7th Endowment of four choristers for the College by Dean Ralph Collingwood. To pray for their souls and sing at Mattins and Vespers.
1518 - John Bell becomes Dean of the College
1525 - William Tyndale produces abroad the first printed English bible
1526 - Anthony Barker succeeds John Bell as Dean of the College
1533 - Thomas Cranmer consecrated Archbishop of Canterbury
1534 - Henry VIII breaks with Rome with Act of Supremacy. On 19 August John Bell, warden, William Crace, sub-warden, Robert Midleton, precentor, Humphrey Sadler, curate, and vicars Richard Borrow and Thomas Reddell signed their acceptance of the royal supremacy.
1536 - Anne Boleyn beheaded. The protestant Tyndale executed in Netherlands, but 16,000 of his bibles now in England. Smaller monasteries suppressed.
1537 - Bishop of Worcester (Hugh Latimer) shows evidence of early 16th century economic decline: ‘[Stratford’s] houses are toward ruin, and the whole town out of frame for lack of residence.’.
1538 - All parishes ordered to purchase an English Bible, Coverdale’s ‘Great Bible’ though many did not.
Friaries dissolved nationwide. Shrines pillaged or destroyed, for example Thomas Becket at Canterbury, where the contents filled 26 wagons.
No candles except on rood, high altar and Easter sepulchre. No veneration of images or relics. This would have ended the long practice of continual lights before the Blessed Virgin Mary in HolyTrinity which also helped pay for repairs to the bridge! The Guild now called ‘The Gild of the Holy Trinity, the Blessed Mary, St John the Baptist and the Holy Cross.’
All monasteries now dissolved.
1540 - July Thomas Cromwell executed for treason and heresy. 3 papists and 3 evangelicals executed the next day to demonstrate Henry VIII’s new ‘via media’.
The Book of Common Prayer psalter comes from this year’s revised edition of the Great Bible.
1541 - Parishes now fined if they did not provide a bible in English open in church. Most now bought one.
Example of creative integration of church and town over repairs to the great bridge over the Avon. Bridgewardens organised a pageant on Ascension Day with a drama of St George and the Dragon since 1400’s. The money raised went to the upkeep of the St George altar at Holy Trinity and the candles sold there went to the upkeep of the bridge.
Law now saying that only ‘less excitable’ upper sections of society should be allowed to read the bible.
1545 - Act of Parliament to dissolve all chantries, though not widely executed until EdwardVI
1546 - College suppressed 1500 communicants that year.
1547 - 28 Jan Henry VIII dies. Edward VI becomes King. July Injunctions from the Royal Visitation requiring destruction of ‘abused’ images and pictures, prohibition of processions around the church at Mass and recitation of the rosary. Only candles to be the two on the High Altar. Required the reading of the bible in English and the Paraphrase of Erasmus. Protestant activists undertook the Visitation with zeal. Images destroyed all over England September-November, either by the Visitors or through Churchwardens presenting evidence under oath that they had done so.
1548 - February The council finally ordered the removal of all images from churches and chapels.
1549 - The Bishop of Worcester gave up his ownership of the manor of Stratford to John Dudley, Earl of Warwick in an unequal exchange.
February Clergy now permitted to marry.
1553 Jan - All remaining church goods to be seized by the Crown except for linen, chalices and bells. Many parishes sold them privately now to avoid confiscation.
28 June - The Guild Chapel was handed back to the town, along with its holdings by Royal Charter in the last week of dward’s reign. The Corporation gained the Guild’s property and the College tithe income. (Still with us today as the endowment of Stratford Town Trust) It paid and housed the schoolmaster, cared for the almshouse poor, maintained the bridge, and paid and housed the Vicar and his assistant chaplain. The right to appoint the Vicar went to Dudley, Earl of Warwick, then to the Crown, [following Dudley’s execution under Mary], and later to local landowners or speculators. Also manorial rights eg the holding of a manorial court.
Edward VI granted the College building to John, Earl of Warwick. It reverted to the crown, but was bought by John Comb [buried in chancel] who left it on his death in 1614 to William Comb.
July - Edward VI died. Mary Tudor, Queen. 2,000 married clergy evicted.
15 Nov - Roger Dyos appointed the first Vicar of Holy Trinity – a Marian Catholic. Corporation objected to his appointment and wouldn’t pay his stipend for 16 months.
December An Act of Parliament repealed all the religious laws of Edward’s reign and restored the Latin Mass of 1546. Bishop Bonner demanded each church should have a pyx over a stone altar, a crucifix, rood loft, censers, vestments, and sanctus bell, hallow ashes, palms and water again. After vigorous royal commissions and Episcopal visitations all CWA parishes had a high altar, vestments, some or all of the stoup,chalice,pyx,pax etc, and some or all of the books: mass book, processional, psalter, manual, coucher, hymnal, antiphonal, legend, breviary, grail.
1555 February - Burning of John Rogers at Smithfield, the first of nearly 300 executions of protestants under Mary. The first two to be executed were Warwickshire men, with Latimer the third. Town Council finally paid Vicar Dyos his stipend on February 7th..
16 October Ridley and Latimer burnt together at Oxford. December Rood plus Mary and John now required. All CWA complied though often with painted figures at first. Some items re-bought or brought out from storage
1558 - 17 Nov Mary Tudor died, and Cardinal Pole a few hours later. Elizabeth I, Queen.
1559 - Act of Uniformity: required use of 1552 Prayer book and that ‘All and every person..to resort to their parish church on Sundays and holy days and there to abide soberly and orderly during the time of common prayer, preachings and other service of God.’
Royal injunction demanded removal of ‘all signs of superstition and idolatry’ from places of worship,’ so that there remain no memory of the same in walls, glasses, windows or elsewhere within their churches and houses.’ Roger Dyos forced to stand down by Town Council on 14 October.
1561 - 5 Stained glass removed and images ‘hacked’ at Holy Trinity.
1560 - The Geneva Bible is produced by English exiles in Geneva during Mary I’s reign. The first English bible to include verse numbers, maps and tables, it is the most popular unofficial version. William Shakespeare quotes from it in his later plays.
1562 - After 1562 repair of Clopton Bridge becomes the responsibility of the Corporation who raised a rate for the purpose. (Used to be funded from the St George’s Day Pageant)
1564 - January John Shakespeare notes in his accounts as Chamberlain, 2 shillings ‘paid for defacing images in the Chapel.’( They were only whitewashed over). Rood loft taken down. (4 years late!) The chancel was partitioned off, with pictures intact until 1641 (used as a children and animal area by Thomas Wilson at least.) The Dance of Death on North Wall was allowed to remain. Stone altars in HT probably gone/hidden by now.
26 April - Baptism of William Shakespeare
11 July - ‘hic incipit pestis’ reference by vicar in parish register: here begins the plague. 68% of children born in the 1560’s were buried in that same decade.
The Catholic Clopton family leave Stratford.
1564 - October/November HT curate Rafe Hilton lost three children to the plague He and his wife had been deprived under Mary I as a married priest and had faced great poverty.
1566 - Stratford curate composed a will for an alderman in which he bequeathed his soul to God,’to be in joy with our Blessed Lady and with all the Holy Company of Heaven.’
1568 - Coverdale Bible re-issued as the ‘Bishops’ Bible’ (Version of the bible most often quoted in Shakespeare’s early works)
Mary Queen of Scots imprisoned in England and becomes a rallying point for Catholics.
1569 - November Vicar, curate and schoolmaster fell under suspicion after Catholic Northern rising and replaced by ‘genuine protestants’ Vicar left in November, the Curate described in the town minutes as ‘fugitivus’.
Bishop Bayly’s ‘Practice of Pietie’ singled out Stratford as a town meriting God’s fiery wrath after a severe fire in the town.
1570 - Pope Pius V excommunicates Queen Elizabeth I and forbids her subjects to obey her laws
1571 - Jan Stained glass removed in the Guild Chapel (and presumably in Holy Trinity)
William Shakespeare starts school.
September Council agreed Bailiff Adrian Quyney could sell the velvet and damask copes and other vestments in the Corporation’s possession (and presumably in HT too).
1573 - Simon Hunt recruited as Schoolmaster at King Edward’s School. He retired in 1575 to become a Jesuit at Douai.
1578 - Former KES schoolmaster, Simon Hunt, became a Jesuit. John Shakespeare had a fine levied for strengthening local militia-reported for non-payment.
1579 - William Shakespeare’s sister Anne (7) died. John Shakespeare paid an 8p fee for ‘the bell and pall’.
1580 - William Shakespeare finishes school. His father John is bound over to keep the peace at the Queen’s bench in Westminster for £20. He probably secretly signed the Jesuit Testamenta (by Cardinal Booromeo) this year, found in Henley Street roof in 1757 and then lost.
1581 - Conversion to Roman Catholicism now a treasonable offence.
1582 - William Shakespeare marries Anne Hathaway perhaps at Temple Grafton with John Frith, the Vicar. ‘an old priest and unsound in religion, he can neither preach nor read well, his chiefest trade is to cure hawks that are hurt or dieased for which purpose many do usually repair to him.’ 1586 report.
1583 - John Somerville, cousin of William Shakespeare arrested on his way to assassinate the queen.
May 26th - Susannah Shakespeare baptised on Trinity Sunday by Vicar Haycroft who moved to Rowington in 1584.
2 Feb - Hamnet and Judith, William and Ann Shakespeare’s twins, baptised.
Any Roman Catholic priest in England now considered a traitor. Illegal to shelter or house one. 123 in total hung drawn and quartered during Elizabeth’s reign.
1586 - Puritan survey of Warwickshire condemned 64% of incumbents as ‘dumbe’. Among the thirty approved resident preachers was Stratford’s Vicar, Richard Barton. ‘a preacher, learned, zealous and godly and fit for the ministry. A happy age if our age were provided with many such.’
1587 - Guild Chapel pulpit improved with a sounding board.
1587-92 - Henry VI, Richard III, 2 Gentlemen, Titus Andronicus
1589 26 Feb - John Rushton becomes Vicar
1589 20 Nov - John Bramhall becomes Vicar. His Vicarage was on Church Street near the turn into Old Town. He was a keen Puritan and Sabbatarian, declaring the fires of 1594/5 to be God’s punishment for the desecration of the Sabbath in the parish.
1590 - The Corporation complained that the town was ‘now fallen much into decay for want of such trade as heretofore..the poor..now live in great penury and misery.’
There is a big drive on Sabbath observance through the church court.
Ecclesiatical Court: The Church Court or Bawdy Court: Stratford is one of only 300 ‘Peculiar courts’ held in a parish church and for 2 out of three years independent of the Bishop of Worcester. It met monthly in Holy Trinity, perhaps in the shop area or Quiet Room, with the Vicar as Judge or ‘Ordinary’. It looked at Moral matters, church attendance and Sabbath observance, repair of the church and its goods and the licensing of schools, doctors, midwives etc who all had to be approved and licensed by the church.
October 1592 - 37 people were accused of opening their shops on Sabbath or holy days, 7 with fornication or adultery, one for receiving evil company in their house, one for making slanderous libels. Behaviour in church was monitored too. Joan Tawnte admitted ‘going out of church beckoning with her finger and laughing, and swearing by the name of God.’ She\had to acknowledge her fault before the congregation in her own clothes, whereas a pregnant stranger, Joan Dutton, had to perform public penance ‘clad in a sheet.’ 
1591 - Maypoles banned in Coventry, but not banned in Stratford until 1619. Mystery plays gone from Coventry from 1591, but acting troupes were visiting Stratford until about 1600. In these Eliz years most disputes were between different brands of Protestantism.
1592 - Investigation of ‘recusants’ (refusers of Communion) named several from Stratford including Cloptons. Frances Jeffreys, wife of John the Town Clerk ‘continueth a wilful recusant’ Recusants list included Elizabeth Wheler (neighbour from Henley St ‘A Fatrt of ons ars for you!’, John Shakespeare (for reasons of debt), the Debdales of Shottery whose son was executed as a Jesuit. Church Court also reports Holy Trinity lacking a Ten Commandments board.
1593-4 - Comedy of Errors, Taming of the Shrew, Love’s Labour’s lost
1594-7 - Famine years in the town, greatly affecting the poor.
1594 and 5 - Two major fires, both on a Sunday. Vicar John Bramhall attributed them to the inhabitants’ profanation of the Sabbath. Lewis Bayly, Vicar of Shipston in 1590’s .wrote ‘The Practice of Piety’ a popular early 17C manual of devotion. He wrote that the Stratford fires were a punishment ‘chiefly for profaning the Lord’s Sabbath and for condemning his word in the mouth of his faithful ministers.’
1595 - Church Court: one Elizabeth Wheeler, accused of brawling abusing and not attending church said to Vicar Bramhall: “God’s wounds, a plague a God on you all, a fart of ons arse for you!” She was excommunicated immediately. On another occasion Morris dancers were brought before the court for dancing on the feast of Philip and James.
Midsummer Night’s Dream, Romeo and Juliet, Merchant of Venice, Richard II, King John
1596 23 Jan - Richard Byfield, a strong Puritan, became Vicar
11 August Hamnet buried
1596-8 - Henry IV, Merry Wives Much Ado about Nothing
1599 - Henry V, Julius Caesar,
1601 8 - September Death of John Shakespeare
Troilus, Twelfth Night
1602 - All’s Well That Ends Well
1603 - James I becomes King, ‘a well-informed Calvinist protestant’ Canons required the teaching of the Catechism and Ten Commandments to all children, servants and apprentices before Evening Prayer.
1604 - Measure for Measure, Othello
A Reading Desk, for the leading of Prayer Book services, was now required in every church. Canons on clerical dress required the wearing of a black academic gown in the streets and a surplice in church.
1605 - John Rogers,Vicar, moved to the Old Priest’s House in Chapel Quad, next to the schoolmaster. A near neighbour of William Shakespeare, he officiated at his funeral.
24 July - William Shakespeare Lease of church tithes (Lay Rectorship)
5 November - Gunpowder Plot. Just after this George Badger, a friend and Henley Street neighbour of the Shakespeares, was found to be harbouring relics from Clopton House including copes, vestments, crucifixes, chalices. King Lear
1606 - Macbeth, Anthony and Cleopatra May 21 Stratford people cited for not receiving communion at Easter including Susanna Shakespeare. Case later dismissed so like the others she had presumably now received. Nb Only 3 other cases recorded between 1590-1616 - inc. John Wheler and John Shakespeare who were cited for recusancy in 1592. Non reception of sacrament had been acceptable for ‘church papists’ prior to Gunpowder Plot.
A prominent Puritan, Daniel Baker, was presented in court for incontinence with Anne Ward in 1606. Anti-puritanism was a strong presence in the town, with the hostile stereotype of a deceitful hypocrite hiding all sorts of immorality beneath a smooth godly veneer. (See Malvolio in Twelth Night) Baker denied her accusation that he was the father of her unborn child but acknowledged that a rumour to that effect was in circulation.
1607 5 June - Susannah marries John Hall. The last pensioner ‘ex-monk’ dies. Many had served as parish clergy, deans and bishops following dissolution.
1608 9 - September Mary Shakespeare (Arden) is buried.
1609 - Cymbeline
1610 - Winter’s Tale
1611 - King James Authorized Bible published.
1612 Henry VIII
1613 - Edward Woolmer becomes Vicar
Two Noble Kinsmen
1614-1617 - Richard Watts is Vicar
1614 - John Comb leaves the College building to his son William. Other owners include James Kendall 1740, also buried in the chancel. In 1799 it is demolished by its owner, Edmund Battersbee.
John Comb left (as recorded on his tomb in the chancel) a typical protestant will: “Here lies interred the body of John Comb esquire who departed this life the 10th day of July 1614, bequeathed by his last will and testament to pious and charitable uses these sums annually to be paid forever viz. 20s for two sermons to be preached in this church. Six pounds, 13s and 4 pence to buy ten gowns for ten poor people within the Borough of Stratford and one hundred pounds to be lent unto 15 poor tradesmen of the same Borough…”
1616 10 Feb - Thomas Quiney marries Judith Shakespeare 15 March Margaret Wheler dies in childbirth. The same Thomas Quiney is accused of being the father. 25 March William Shakespeare signs his last will and testament in a shaky hand.
26 March - Thomas Quiney goes before Ecclesiastical court in Holy Trinity and is ordered to do public penance for having sexual relations with Margaret Wheler. Commuted to 5 shilling fine to poor box and to make private confession at Bishopton Church.
25 April - Burial of William Shakespeare
1617 - Inventory in Vestry Minute Book: Bells in tower had fallen into disrepair, ‘We were cited to Worcester because the church and bells were out of order’
The church (not chancel) was in reasonable repair but ‘we have no land nor tenements save only a church house’.
A great church bible of ‘last translation’.
Dr Jewills works
The paraphrase of Erasmus
A Book of Common Prayer
A book of Homilies
The Book of Canons
Ten Commandments ‘set up in the east end of the church’
Four small prayer books for ‘his maties deliverance and the faste’
Two silver communion cups and their covers
One pewter flagon
Four wooden platters and a trencher
A carpet for communion table
Communion Table Linen Cloth
Table and a Frame
A stone font
Pulpit and minister’s seat
A pulpit cushion and hour glass
An old book of accompaniments
Two chests for books with three keys a piece
1618 10 June - Holy Trinity Churchwardens papers mention ‘recusant papists’ in the parish, and describe the chancel as being in a ‘ruinous state’. Those like William Combe and John Hall who owned the tithes at Old Stratford and Welcombe had not paid their dues. The Wardens made a levy on the whole parish for repairs
1619 22 May - Thomas Wilson became Vicar
1644 - Parliament ordered the destruction of all ‘vestments, organs, fonts, lofts and images’. Probably when the ‘Shakespeare’ font was removed and damaged.
1799 - College building demolished by its then owner, Edmund Battersbee.
By 1839 the church contains pews and galleries, with a high ‘three-decker’ pulpit in front of the tower arch.
1887 - Choir stalls brought forward to present position
1890 - High Altar is reconstructed