Shakespeare Solved ®

Shakespeare Solved ® is a forthcoming series of novels that covers the Bard's entire life and work.

These novels solve the mysteries surrounding Shakespeare by transporting us back in time, to walk in his shoes, and see his world through his eyes.

Only when we see Shakespeare in his original historical context can we understand what his plays and poems really mean.

This blog explains some of my ideas and discoveries, to prepare for this series of novels.

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Monday, July 14, 2014

Did Shakespeare Meet Queen Elizabeth in 1575?

Did William Shakespeare meet Queen Elizabeth in 1575?

Last week I posted a blog article about how Shakespeare, when he was 11 years old, may have had just glimpsed Queen Elizabeth when she visited Kenilworth Castle in 1575.

She visited the castle for a 19-day celebration, from 9 to 27 July, at the invitation of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, that included bear-baiting, plays, and other entertainments, including a fireworks display.

Over the last few days I have had a lively discussion on Twitter about whether or not Shakespeare was even there, and if he did go, what exactly would he have been able to see.

There is no proof that Shakespeare was there. There is no proof that he was not there. It is impossible to know, based on the evidence that we possess today. Perhaps we may eventually discover documents or letters that put Shakespeare at Kenilworth, or not, and until that time we can not know one way or the other.

I am not a scholar. I am a writer. As I write my versions of Shakespeare’s plays, and the events in his life that inspired the plays, I am always confronted with the matter of objective provable truth versus artistic licence. 

I try very hard to stick to whatever facts are available, but more often than not I have to interpret facts, fill in blanks, and create a story where there is nothing to support it. 

While some people might find fault with my interpretation of Shakespeare’s life, I often remind them that William Shakespeare did not fight on Bosworth Field, and he did not see Richard III yell “A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!”

Another way to put it is that Shakespeare never let a lack of evidence get in the way of a good story.

One of the ways to find what may have happened in Shakespeare’s life is by a process of deduction.

In this case, let’s look at what we do know.

We know that his father, John Shakespeare, had been serving the Stratford community in many offices since 1558, including constable, and most notably as bailiff, the mayor of Stratford. He must have been a prosperous and well-liked man to have held this high office. 

In 1575, he was chief alderman, which was not as prestigious as being mayor, but it was not insignificant. He was a glove-maker, and his 11 year old son, would probably have worked with him, making and selling gloves. 

But he also had a habit of getting into trouble. He was involved in wool brogging, the illegal dealing in wool. He was taken to court twice in 1570 for lending money for profit, which was illegal.

In 1577, John Shakespeare had a terrible reversal of fortune. He so ruined the family’s finances that they could not afford to send Shakespeare to university, probably Oxford, a day’s ride away.

So, those are the facts.

As a writer, I look at these facts and I immediately see a very compelling human drama to be told.

As a writer, I try to not make too many assumptions, but rather deduce from the facts and the likely behaviour (and more often than not, the misbehaviour) of the people involved to come to a story that is hopefully both satisfying as entertainment, but also as a piece of history.

Queen Elizabeth I, as she would have looked in 1575

What if John Shakespeare heard that Queen Elizabeth was coming to Kenilworth Castle?

He was a glove-maker. He might have thought to make her some gloves, as a gift. 

I encourage you to Google the words "elizabethan gloves" and look at the pictures. It's a great way to spend a few hours!

John Shakespeare probably thought that if he made her a wonderful gift of gloves, it might just be the thing to turn things around financially. She might reward him with a gift, or at least he might improve his image with his community, an image that was on the decline. 

In 1575, he had not brought his family to financial ruin yet, but it wasn’t too far off. He was probably the kind of man who succumbed too easily to get-rich-quick schemes, and had dreams beyond his station in life.

He wouldn’t be the first man in history to behave this way, and while his personal dreams never worked out, his son certainly inherited no lack of ambition.

So, let’s assume he wants to make a pair of gloves for Queen Elizabeth.

Would she receive John Shakespeare?

Well, John Shakespeare arguably would have met the Earl of Leicester in the years from 1558 to 1575. Leicester was a wealthy and powerful local Earl, and while I don’t imagine he would sit down to supper with Shakespeare, I find it hard to believe he did not know who Shakespeare was.

So, perhaps John Shakespeare may have realized that in order to give a pair of gloves to Queen Elizabeth, he had better make another pair for Leicester, too.

Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester

Leicester, after all, was inviting Queen Elizabeth to Kenilworth, in order to woo her and get her to marry him. He too had dreams beyond his station, dreams that ruined him financially. He spent so much money on this 19 day celebration that it bankrupted him.

So, John Shakespeare probably thought that if he made Leicester a fine pair of gloves, Leicester would receive him at Kenilworth, at which time Shakespeare could give Queen Elizabeth a pair too.

Would Queen Elizabeth have accepted a pair of gloves from John Shakespeare?

To me, it’s like asking if women need another pair of shoes.

From what I have read about Queen Elizabeth, she really liked fashion. I have read that she had over 6000 dresses when she died in 1603.

Queen Elizabeth, with gloves, standing on top of the world

She was known to accept gloves as gifts while she traveled outside London. 

Here is a picture of the gloves she received from Oxford University in 1566:

So, it is very possible that Queen Elizabeth would have accepted such a gift from a local office-holder and businessman like John Shakespeare.

John Shakespeare was not known to make very expensive gloves, like the ones from Oxford University, with gold embroidery.

But if he was really trying to make an impression, and perhaps win favors from Leicester and the Queen, he might have spared no expense. 

If he was a bad manager of his finances, he might have invested too much time and money in these gloves. It fits his character.

I can easily imagine his having arguments with his wife, Mary, about the exorbitant cost of these gloves. Or, she might have approved of the idea, and helped him.

So, did John Shakespeare, with his son William, make very expensive gloves for Queen Elizabeth and Leicester?

It is very likely, given the circumstances, and given his character.

He might have also made other, less expensive gloves, to sell while he was at Kenilworth. It is hard to imagine that local businesses did not take advantage of the Queen’s visit by bringing food, and other goods to sell and make a profit.

Therefore, it is very possible that he took his son to Kenilworth, for at least a day, in order to be received by the Queen and Leicester, give the gifts, and maybe make some money outside the castle selling other gloves.

Queen Elizabeth and Leicester

So, did an 11-year-old William Shakespeare enter Kenilworth Castle, in the very best clothes he had, probably more than a little nervous, and watch his father give these gloves to Queen Elizabeth?

Did Queen Elizabeth thank John Shakespeare and like the gloves?

Did she perhaps even thank William, and say young William’s name aloud?

It is such a delightful moment that very well might have occurred.

It might have been the greatest moment in William Shakespeare’s early life, and one he cherished until the day he died.

There are so many moments in my early life that inspired me to become a writer, that I look for these moments in the lives of other artists.

Was this the single greatest moment in William Shakespeare’s early life that inspired him to become the greatest writer of all?

Watching his father give these gloves, gloves they had made with such care and love, gloves they could not afford to make but they made them anyway, might have been the greatest moment of all for the young William Shakespeare.

It might have allowed him to dream even greater dreams than his father had ever dreamt, pursue this dream all the way to London, to perform for the crowds, but more importantly perhaps in order to stand before Queen Elizabeth again, and perhaps re-capture the joy he had as an 11-year-old boy in Kenilworth, in July 1575.

Perhaps the gloves looked like this

While I cannot prove that Shakespeare was ever there or any of this ever happened, I like to believe it anyway.

Thank you Stephanie and Nick for your Twitter discussion, because without it I might not have thought of this.


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