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Was William Shakespeare's Father, John Shakespeare, a Crook?

Updated: Jun 5

William Shakespear's father
Was William Shakespeare's Father, John Shakespeare, a Crook?

If you read the history books, William Shakespeare's father, John, was reputedly a leatherworker and glove maker. He was elected to several municipal offices including alderman, magistrate and finally mayor of Stratford, England. In the research for my new novel, 'Dream of Courage' it seems there was a more sinister side to John's business dealings. Was William Shakespeare's Father, John Shakespeare, a Crook?

One must ask themselves how did Shakespeare amass such a fortune by the time William was a young adult? It certainly wasn't as a small town leather tradesman. Uncovered records indicate that John Shakespeare was prosecuted in 1570 for exploitation and deceptive trading practices or what we better know now as loan sharking. John would lend money to townspeople and charge an exorbitant amount of interest, often as high as 200 percent. This was frowned upon by the law but very difficult to prove as the person borrowing the money was often involved in illegal dealings themselves.

Besides being a usurer or charging interest in excess of the amount allowed by law, John Shakespeare was a wool brogger or an unlicensed, illegal dealer in wool. Dealing as a middleman in wool was restricted to Parliamentary approved merchants only, who were required to pay the customary taxes. Legislation was passed by Parliament to oust the broggers with fines and prison terms; however, this had little effect as magistrates were reluctant to enforce the laws and in some cases were involved in these dealings themselves.

The demand for English wool overseas dropped as broggers like John Shakespeare would purchase wool in bulk from farmers and store it away and wait for prices to go up. John would lend money to various townsmen, at exorbitant rates of interest, who would buy wool from local farmers. He would then, in turn, buy it from them, receive the interest from the loan, and sell the wool at an even higher price. All this without paying any excise or tax. John Shakespeare amassed a fortune often purchasing properties under the name of family members or friends and often using these properties as storage cache's for his wool.

Legislation brought in by the Lord's Privy council to protect the 'staple' or English wool industry, broggers were forced to stop their illegal selling of wool or risk the loss of £100 or, in today's terms $50,000.00. The Subsidy Act, tax on sheep and changes in the regulation of wool, forced John Shakespeare to move his entrepreneurial attention to the export of whole worsted, a stronger, finer, and smoother type of cloth. It could be hypothesised that this may have been the reason for William Shakespeare to re-locate himself to London as a playwright but also to tend to the family business.

A young William Shakespeare, who had started his career as performer and playwright, was lured away from his playing company by Francis Langley, a theatre builder and producer. Langley also held the office of "Alnager and Searcher of Cloth" – he was an official quality inspector of fabric to certify the quality and length of adulterated cloth.

At the time, worsted cloth prices were paid according to the count of yarn but because threads were not visible because of the raised nap, false and short reeling was difficult to prove unless inspected by an 'Alnager'. Without presuming too much, it seems that William Shakespeare's relationship with Francis Langley may have been two-fold.

Historical fiction/mystery author Paul Rushworth-Brown
Historical fiction/mystery author Paul Rushworth-Brown

Paul Rushworth-Brown is the author of three novels:


Set in Haworth, a family of Yorkshire peasants in 1590, live each day in isolation from the village, but an attack on one of their own puts them all in grave danger. This story carefully navigates the backdrop of the English Reformation, populating it with likable and despicable characters, and casting them in a fully realised historical mystery setting. It's a slice of history that's totally, utterly believable, and unbelievable. The twists will surprise and the ending is totally unexpected even for the most astute of readers. Read it for free online and read the reviews

Cover of novel Red Winter Journey
Cover of novel Red Winter Journey

Red Winter Journey

England, 1642. When bloody civil war breaks out between the King and Parliament, families and communities are driven by different allegiances. Red Winter Journey is a sweeping tale of adventure and loss, sacrifice and love, with a unique and unforgettable story of a mother’s love for her son at its heart. A historic journey of twists, turns and a dash of spirited passion.

Cover of novel Dream of Courage: Facing Fear Head On
Cover of novel Dream of Courage: Facing Fear Head On

Dream of Courage: Facing Fear Head On

Young Robert Rushworth and John Rushworth leave home and stumble across a way to make their fortune, in the Briggate in Leeds. Pursued by Jacob Wilding, a brogger and brute of a man, with no manners or decorum, typical of the ‘lower sort’ of the time. Smythe, the local tavern keeper, has many secrets and with a hidden past, sends Robert to The Haven, to Captain Girlington of 'The Pearl'. Will Robert escape before it's too late? Will he hang? Will Robert and Ursula ever be together?

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