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One of the first questions many people ask is 'are we related to the William Shakespeare?' The answer to this question is no and probably.

Why the confusing answer? Well....the poet left no male descendants with the surname Shakespeare. But....all early occurrences of the surname occur in Warwickshire - it seems that Warwickshire was the epicentre of Shakespeare history, although back in the 13th century at least one turns up in Cumbria. They spread from the villages around Rowington in the 15th century to adjoining places like Coventry, Little Packington, Stratford and Warwick by the 16th century.

The Black Country Shakespeares

The earliest Shakespeare to appear in the Black Country was Edward Shakespeare who first appeared in the Parish of Rowley Regis, Staffordshire in February 1604 when the baptism of his son William was recorded. This son died for another William is recorded in September 1605. It is from this William that all of the Black Country Shakespeares descend. The only other child of Edwards recorded at Rowley Regis was a daughter, Mary, born in October 1612. There is one other Shakespeare record in the Rowley Regis parish registers - this is for Ann the daughter of John Shakespeare, born in 1609. Presumably this John was a brother of Edward. These are all the entries for Rowley Regis. The next record we have of the family is in the neighbouring parish of Dudley, Worcestershire, where William Shakespeare married Joyce Price in 1625.

William and Joyce Shakespeare had nine children, five of whom left descendants. One of these, Henry moved to London for a time, for here he married in 1663 and had two children in 1664 and 1668. He was back in Dudley by early 1669, for here another child was born in March, followed by a fourth child in 1672. Henry remarried in 1688, but apparently had no more children. What had he been doing in London? The family trade at this time (and for most of the next 2 - 300 years) was nailmaking, or associated occupations such as that of Blacksmith. Is it possible that his family (Henry was to young to have been directly involved) had been involved with the army because of the events surrounding the Civil War - perhaps his metalworking skills would have been invaluable to the army.

Dudley had certainly been involved in the Civil War, for the Castle was a Royalist stronghold. Oliver Cromwell obviously thought that this was a threat, for he put cannons on nearby Kates Hill and blasted at the ancient Norman structure thus making him responsible for the ruined state of the building as it is seen today.

John, a great grandson, of William Shakespeare and Joyce Price moved to the neighbouring parish of Kingswinford in 1719 and is the ancestor of all the Shakespeares in the Kingswinford, Brierley Hill, and Himley, Staffordshire area. It is one of these descendants, David Shakespeare, born 1827 in Sedgley, who is the direct ancestor of all the Shakespeares in Utah, U.S.A., having converted to the Mormon Faith and emigrating to Utah in the 1850's.

Back in Dudley is where we also meet up again with Edward Shakespeare, the founder of the line, for this is where he died in 1634 - the St. Thomas Parish Register records 'Old Edward Shakespeare buried.' His wife Ann survived him by two years, being buried in 1636. Many of his descendants, of course, remain in Dudley to the present day and it is here that we find the authors grandparents Marion Lucy Shakespeare and John William Thomas Pearson marrying in 1931.

What of the Origin of Edward Shakespeare?

Well...he almost certainly came from Warwickshire - at the time he would have been born there were virtually no Shakespeares any where else.

Edward was - in the early 1600's a very rare name in the Shakespeares and the only one found that might fit the bill might be the brother of John Shakespeare, yeoman, of Lapworth. John Shakespeare left a will dated 30th October 1637 leaving sums of money to two brothers, one named Christopher and another brother - unnamed - whose three sons Edward, William and Thomas and three daughters each received £3 6s. 8d. Also mentioned was his largest beneficiary John Twycross who was his nephew. There were several John Twycross's in the Warwickshire area at this period. If Edward of Dudley can be presumed to have been born around 1570 - 1580 it is possible that he is the un-named brother.  It seems that there are so very few Edwards at this period the chances are we are looking at Father and son here. The will gives no indication where the un-named brother and his children lived.

Let's examine the evidence from the will and the facts concerning Edward.

However, all of this analysis is thrown into further doubt by the recent discovery on the IGI of a marriage on the 15th August 1629 at Halesowen (another town bordering Dudley and Rowley Regis) of James Shakespeare and Frances Griffin. The probable age of this James, and the already stated fact that there were no other Shakespeares in the area, almost certainly makes him another son of Edward, the founder of the line, whose baptism is unrecorded locally. As there is no James mentioned in the will of John Shakespeare of Lapworth, this would probably rule out Edward as being the 'unnamed brother', but it is still of course possible - allowing for dates - that he is the Edward, son of the unnamed brother mentioned in the will.

This as all, of course, theoretical, and being a recent discovery is the subject of ongoing research.

The Descendants of Edward Shakespeare can be seen here.

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Steve Pearson

PO Box 2483, Dudley, West Midlands, England, DY2 0YH

Tel: +44 (0)1384 241010  E-mail: Steve Pearson

İS Pearson 2002