This is the profile for Robert Arden of Wilmcote who was the grandfather of the playwright William Shakespeare (Robert Arden => Mary (Arden) Shakespeare => William Shakespeare).
Parentage; Date and Place of Birth
Robert was the son of Thomas Arden of Wilmcote. His parentage is established by a 1501 deed to, among others, "Thomas Arden of Wilmecote, and Robert Arden, the son of this Thomas Arden." As discussed in the profile for Thomas Arden, the identity of Thomas's wife, and Robert's mother, is unknown.
Robert's date of birth is uncertain. Since it is generally agreed by Shakespeare scholars that the 1501 deed included grantees who were intended to serve as trustees for a young Robert Arden, Robert was no doubt under 21 at the time, which means he was born sometime in 1480-1501. Based on the fact that a record shows that Robert joined the the Stratford Guild of the Holy Cross as a brother in 1517-1518, when he almost certainly must have been at least 21, Robert was probably born sometime before 1497. Based on the estimated date range of Robert's his first marriage (1515-1525), he was probably born sometime after 1485. It is therefore most likely that Robert was born sometime in 1485-1497, with about 1492 being a good mid-range estimate.
Since Robert's father was described as "of Wilmote" in the 1501 deed, it is probable that Robert was born there.
First Marriage and Children
All reputable Shakespeare scholars appear to be in agreement that the identity of Robert's first wife and the mother of his children is unknown. Stopes, in her 1901 Shakespeare's Family, speculated that she might have been a Trussel or a Palmer. Based on the fact that four of his daughters were married at the time he made bequests of his lands to them in 1550, Robert and his first wife were probably married no later than 1525. Based on the fact that their last child, Mary, was born about 1535, they were probably married no earlier than 1515. They were therefore probably married sometime in 1515-1525, with about 1520 being a reasonable midpoint estimate. This is consistent with Stopes' statement in her 1501 Shakespeare's Family that she supposed they were married about 1520.
Some older printed genealogies of the Webb family and many newer online Webb family genealogies state that Robert's first wife was a woman named Mary Webb, who was the daughter of a Sir Alexander Webb (or Sir John Alexander Webb). However, none of those genealogies cite any credible evidence to support that claim nor has any reputable Shakespeare scholar found any.
Robert and his first wife had the following children, all presumably born in Wilmcote:
Agnes/Anne, b. probably about 1521, m. 1st probably sometime in 1540-1546 John Hewyns of Bearley, m. 2d before July 17, 1550 Thomas Stringer in Bearley, d. before 1569 probably in Bearley or Stockton, Shropshire. (See discussion and sources in Agnes's profile.)
Joan/Jane, b. probably about 1523, m. before 1550 Edmund Lambert of Barton-on-Heath, bur. April 23, 1593 at Barton-on-Heath. (See discussion and sources in Joan's profile.)
Katharine, b. probably about 1525, m. before 1550 Thomas Edkyns/Etkyns of Wilmcote, d. by 1578. (See discussion and sources in Katherine's profile.)
Margaret, b. probably about 1527, m. 1st before July 17, 1550 Alexander Webbe of Bearley, m. 2d about 1574 Edward Cornwell, d. 1614 probably in Snitterfield. (See discussion and sources in Margaret's profile.)
Elizabeth, b. perhaps in 1529-1532, m. ______ Skarlett/Scarlett, d. before March 1581/2. (Stopes did not think Elizabeth Scarlett was one of Robert's daughters, but other Shakespeare scholars were convinced that she was based on documents indicating that she inherited an interest in some of the family lands.)
Joyce, b. perhaps in 1531-1534, never married, d. after July 1550 but before 1579. (See discussion and sources in Joyce's profile.)
Alice, b. perhaps in 1533-1536, never married, d. after November 1556 but before 1579. (See discussion and sources in Alice's profile.)
Mary, b. probably about 1538, m. 1557 John Shakespeare, bur. September 9, 1608 in Stratford-on-Avon. (See discussion and sources in Mary's profile.)
Robert's first wife died sometime before 1548.
On April 1, 1548, Agnes Hill, widow of John Hill of Bearley, obtained a license from the steward of Balsall manor to marry Robert Ardern and they were probably married soon afterwards. Agnes's maiden name was Webbe, as established by a bequest in her will to "my brother Alexander Webbes children."
Residency; Landholdings; Status
Robert lived in Wilmcote, Aston Cantlow, Warwickshire, his entire life, as the first record of him in 1501 describes his father as "of Wilmcote," as does Robert's will in 1556. Robert described himself in the 1550 property trusts for his daughters (described below) as a "husbandman." Robert was thus a farmer, but no doubt one of the wealthiest in immediate area. He held two messuages (farmhouses) with a 100 acres or more of land at Snitterfield (a parish near to Wilmcote), which he leased out to be operated by tenants (including, most notably, Richard Shakespeare), a property with another 50 acres in Wilmcote (Asbies, which be bequeathed to his daughter Mary), which he operated himself, and another copyhold in Wilmcote of unknown size.
1550 Property Trusts
On July 17, 1550, Robert Arden made two settlements of his Snitterfield properties. In one, he devised one part of his properties in Snitterfield in trust to Adam Palmer and Hugh Porter for the benefit of himself and his wife for life and afterwards for his three eldest daughters, Agnes, Joan and Katherine. In the other, he made a similar arrangement with respect to the other part of his properties in Snitterfield in favor of his daughters Margaret, Joyce and Alice. Daughter Mary was not mentioned, which Stopes suggested was probably because Robert had already decided to bequeath his Ashbies estate in Wilmcote to her. Daughter Elizabeth was also not mentioned.
Will; Death; Estate
Robert made his will on November 23, 1556. In his will, he instructed that he be buried in the churchyard of Saint John the Baptist at Aston Cantlowe. Robert bequeathed to his "youngste dowghter Marye all my lande at Willmecote cawlide Ashbyes" and 6li 13s 4d in money, bequeathed to his daughter Alice 1/3 of his goods, and bequeathed to his wife Agnes 6li 13s 4d if she allowed Alice to enjoy 1/2 of his copyhold in Wilmcote and only 3li 6s 8d if she did not. He directed that the remainder of his goods be equally divided amongst his other children (unnamed) at the discretion Adam Palmer, Hugh Porter of Snitterfield and John Skerlett. Robert named his daughters Alice and Mary as his executors. The will was witnessed by Sir William Bouton Curett, Adam Palmer, John Skerlett, Thomas Jhenkes, William Pytt and others.
Robert's will was proved at Worcester on December 16, 1556, which means that he died sometime between November 23, 1556 (the date of his will) and December 16, 1556.
The value of Robert's estate (not including land) was appraised at £76 11s 10d. His estate inventory included eight oxen, two bulls, four horses, and three colts, as well as wheat, barley, hay, peas, oats and straw.
Chronology of Records
1501. A deed dated May 16 Henry VII (1501) by which John Mayowe of Snitterfield transferred 80 acres of land in Snitterfield to "Robert Throckmorton, Armiger, Thomas Trussell of Billesley, Roger Reynolds of Henley-in-Arden, William Wood of Woodhouse, Thomas Arden of Wilmecote, and Robert Arden, the son of this Thomas Arden."
1517. Robert Arden joined the Stratford Guild of the Holy Cross as a brother in 1517-1518.
1517. Robert Arden (Arthern) joined the Guild of Knowle in 1517.
1519. On December 14 and 21, 1519, Robert Arden purchased property in Snitterfield from Richard Rushby and Agnes his wife.
1529. Robert Arden purchased a tenement from John Palmer on October 1, 1529.
1523. Entries in the Subsidy Rolls of the parish of Aston Cantlow, taken in 15 Henry VIII (1523-4), showing that Thomas Arden was assessed on goods valued at £12 and Robert Arden on goods valued at £8 or (depending on the source) that both were assessed upon goods of the value of £10 each.
1546. A tax assessment in 1546 shows that Robert Arden was assessed on land in Aston Cantlow valued at £10 and a Thomas Arden was assessed on land valued at only 40s (which is the same as £2).
1547. Robert Arden was excused attendance at a leet of the manor of Balsall on October 15, 1547.
1548. On April 1, 1548 Agnes Hill, widow of John Hill of Bearley, obtained a license from the steward of Balsall manor to marry Robert Ardern.
1549. Robert Arden witnessed the will of Richard Green of Great Wilmcote in 1549.
1550. On July 17, 1550, Robert Arden made two settlements of his Snitterfield properties for the benefit of himself and his wife for life, afterwards of his daughters, Agnes, Joan, Katherine, Margaret, Joyce and Alice.
1553. Robert Arden sued John Dyckson for debt in the Stratford court of record in 1553.
1556. Robert Arden made his will on November 23, 1556.
1556. Robert Arden's will was probated in Worcester on December 16, 1556.
1582. John Henley, aged 80, testified in 1582 that he had known since about 1516 of the freehold in Snitterfield of Thomas Arden and his son Robert.
Stopes, Mrs. C.C. Shakespeare's Family, Being a Record of the Ancestors and Descendants of William Shakespeare with Some Account of the Ardens. James Pott & Company, 1901. p.27. Link to page at archive.org.
Eccles, Mark. Shakespeare in Warwickshire. The University of Wisconsin Press, 1963. p. 15.
Pogue, Kate Emery. Shakespeare's Family. Praeger, 2008. Kindle edition location 181 of 3128.
Stopes, Mrs. C.C. Shakespeare's Family, Being a Record of the Ancestors and Descendants of William Shakespeare with Some Account of the Ardens. James Pott & Company, 1901. p.28. Link to page at archive.org.
Pogue, Kate Emery. Shakespeare's Family. Praeger, 2008. Kindle edition location 188 of 3128.
Eccles, Mark. Shakespeare in Warwickshire. The University of Wisconsin Press, 1963. p. 20.
Pogue, Kate Emery. Shakespeare's Family. Praeger, 2008. Kindle edition location 1760 of 3128.
The dates of birth of Elizabeth, Joyce and Alice are estimated as 1529-1532, 1531-1534 and 1533-1536, respectively, based on their older sister Margaret's estimated date of birth of 1527, their younger sister Mary's estimated date of birth of about 1538, the fact that both Joyce and Alice were unmarried at the time of the July 1550 deed granting them property in trust, and the fact that Joyce was mentioned before Alice in that deed.
Stopes, Mrs. C.C. Shakespeare's Family, Being a Record of the Ancestors and Descendants of William Shakespeare with Some Account of the Ardens. James Pott & Company, 1901. p. 31. Link to page at archive.org.