Note: As discussed below under "Parentage", this profile's Thomas Arden, who was William Shakespeare's great-grandfather, was probably not the same person as Thomas Arden, son of Walter Arden of Park Hall.
This is the profile for Thomas Arden of Wilmcote who was the great-grandfather of the playwright William Shakespeare (Thomas Arden => Robert Arden => Mary (Arden) Shakespeare => William Shakespeare).
Only a few records have been found that relate to this profile's Thomas Arden:
Thomas Arden's parentage is unknown.
George Russell French, in his 1869 Shakspeareana Genealogica, and C.C. Stopes, in her 1901 Shakespeare's Family, argued that Thomas Arden of Wilmcote was probably the second son of Sir Walter Arden of Park Hall. As discussed in the profile for Thomas Arden of Park Hall, it is well established that Sir Walter had a son named Thomas. As evidence for the proposition that Thomas of Wilmcote was the Thomas who was Sir Walter's son, Stopes pointed to the fact that, in the 1501 deed referenced above, Robert Throckmorton, Thomas Trussell, Roger Reynolds and William Wood were to act as trustees for young Robert Arden. Stopes noted that Robert Throckmorton was also appointed by Sir John Arden (Sir Walter's first-born son and heir) to serve as a trustee for his children, which she suggested indicated that Sir John Arden and Thomas Arden of Wilmcote were probably brothers. French and Stopes also argued that, despite the fact that Thomas of Wilmcote's son Robert described himself as a "husbandman" in documents, Thomas and Robert's 1523 tax assessments and their property holdings suggested that they were sufficiently well off to have been part of a cadet branch of Sir Walter's family. Lastly, Stopes also noted that there was no evidence of another Thomas Arden in the area who could have been Sir Walter's son.
Later Shakespeare scholars, however, have viewed the proposition that Thomas was Sir Walter's son as unlikely. E.K. Chambers, in his 1930 William Shakespeare: A Study of Facts and Problems stated that he doubted that the proposition that Thomas was Sir Walter's son was sound. One piece of evidence cited by Chambers against Thomas's being Sir Walter's son is the fact that the Thomas who witnessed Sir Walter's will (and was probably his son) was described as a "Squier," i.e., an esquire, but that neither Thomas nor his son Robert are described as such in the 1501 deed or in later documents and seem to have not even been "gentlemen." A second piece of evidence cited by Chambers against Thomas's being Sir Walter's son is the fact that there are records of Ardens living in the Wilmcote/Snitterfield/Stratford area long before Sir Walter, including a Robert Ardern of Snitterfield who joined the Gild of Stratford in 1440-1, was bailiff of a manor in Snitterfield on the mid 1400s, and was a farmer there in 1461. Chambers suggested that that ancestral background is more consistent with Thomas's and his son Robert's holdings and status than his being a son of Sir Walter, and that Robert the Snitterfield bailiff was probably an ancestor of Thomas's. Chamber's believed that Robert the Snitterfield bailiff and Thomas both probably descended from a cadet of the Ardens (perhaps a son of one of the younger sons of Sir Henry Arden) who was placed in Snitterfield in the early 1400s.
Mark Eccles' in his 1961 Shakespeare in Warwickshire stated that "no connection has so far been found between the Ardens or Arderns of Park Hall and Thomas Ardern of Wilmcote." As described in the profile for Thomas Arden of Park Hall, Eccles found ample evidence of that there was a Thomas Arden, son of Sir Walter, who was a different person from this profile's Thomas Arden of Wilmcote. Eccles' research led him to conclude that Robert Arden the Snitterfield bailiff was the only 15th century Arden known to have lived in the Stratford area and that he may have been Thomas Arden's grandfather, but not his father.
Most modern Shakespeare scholars have followed Chambers and Eccles in not accepting the theory that Thomas was the son of Sir Walter and have instead adopted Chambers' and Eccles' position that his parentage and link to the Park Hall Ardens has not been determined. Schoenbaum in his 1977 William Shakespeare: A Compact Documentary Life stated that the precise branch of the Arden family to which Thomas and his son Robert belonged remains obscure, while Pogue in her 2008 Shakespeare's Family stated that the connection between the Ardens of Wilmcote and the Ardens of Park Hall "cannot be proved but is often sought and claimed."
Thomas's date and place of birth are uncertain. Based on the estimated date of birth of his son and heir Robert (sometime in 1485-1497), Thomas was probably born sometime in 1455-1475, with about 1465 being a reasonable midpoint estimate. Since all the records for Thomas indicate that he was a resident of Wilmcote, Aston Cantlowe, it is reasonably likely that he was born in or near Wilmcote.
No evidence has been cited or found that establishes the identity of Thomas's wife. French, in his 1869 Shakspeareana Genealogica, stated that he had a strong feeling that the wife of Thomas Arden, or the first wife of his son Robert, was either a Trussell, or one of the near relations of that family. Stopes, in her 1901 Shakespeare's Family, stated that she agreed with French that she was very probably a Trussell. However, those two statements were no doubt tied to French's and Stopes' belief that Thomas was the son of Sir Walter Arden. After stating that Thomas's wife was very probably a Trussell, Stopes added, as if in support for that statement, that "Joane was a Trussell name, and Billesley held some attraction to the family." That statement indicates that Stopes thought that the first name of Thomas's wife was Joane, but neither Stopes nor anyone else has otherwise suggested that and no source has been cited or found that supports it.
None of the later Shakespeare scholars even hazard a guess as to the identity of Thomas's wife. Chambers left the space for Thomas's wife blank in his genealogy chart for the Arden family of Wilmcote.
Based on the estimated date of birth of their only known child (and, if there were multiple children, probably the eldest son), Robert (about 1590), Thomas and his wife were probably married sometime in 1585-1590. Since Thomas lived in Wilmcote, they were probably married in or near there.
The 1501 deed establishes that Thomas had a son named Robert. Stopes stated in her 1901 Shakespeare's Family that "there is no trace of another child than Robert." Eccles, however, found evidence of possible additional children. He concluded that Thomas may have had a younger son named Thomas, based on a record that a Thomas Arden was assessed in 1546 on only £2 of land and a record showing that a Thomas Arden, not a resident of Stratford, held property in that town in 1560. Eccles also stated that a Christopher Arden was buried in 1581 at Aston Cantlow and an Elizabeth Arden was buried there in 1588, implying that Christopher may also have been a son and Elizabeth perhaps Christopher's wife.
Some older printed genealogies of the Webb family and many newer online Webb family genealogies state that Thomas had a daughter named Grace, who married a Sir Henry Webb (or Sir Henry Alexander Webb). However, no credible evidence has been found that suggests that Thomas had a daughter named Grace and none of the reputable Shakespeare scholars mention her. As discussed in the profiles for Grace (Arden) Webb and Sir Henry Alexander Webb, there is no evidence that either Grace or her purported husband, Sir Henry Webb existed.
A 1546 record 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). French and Chambers suggested that this record showed that this profile's Thomas Arden was alive in 1546. Chambers further suggested that Thomas probably died shortly thereafter, since, by 1547, his son Robert had two freeholds at Snitterfield, one of which had been his father's.
Eccles, however, believed that the 1546 assessment related a different Thomas Arden, possibly a younger son of this profile's Thomas. Eccles's concluded that a record showing that Thomas Arden "owed suit" to Warwick College for his land in Snitterfield in 1525 was the last known record of him, and that he probably died soon afterwards, for no later court roll mentions him.
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