Shakespeare Surname Genealogy

The name Shakespeare derived from the Middle English shakken, meaning “brandish” or
“shake,” and  speer or
“spear.”  It would be a nickname for a spearman or a belligerant
person.  Shakespeare
thus not necessarily a good name to have.
Hugh Shakespeare changed his name to Hugh Saunders at Oxford in
“because of its base repute.

spelling of the name
had not settled down by the time
of William Shakespeare.  In his lifetime and for many years after,
his name could be spelt as Shakespear, Shakspeare or Shakspere – as
well as Shakespeare.

Shakespeare Resources on

Shakespeare Ancestry

The first recording of the name was that of William Sakespere in the
old charters of Gloucestershire in 1248.  He may have been the
same William Sakespere who was hanged for theft in the same county in
1284.  By the
16th century, however, the Shakespeare name was to be found much more
frequently in
Warwickshire than anywhere else.

name first appeared in Warwickshire at Wroxall, with Elizabeth
being recorded there in 1417.  John
and Alice Shakespeyre were at Rowington nearby in 1464.

the next century this family was living at Mowsley End in
Rowington.  Thomas Shaxpere held the manor
his death in 1591.  William Shakespeare
was living at Knowle Hall in the 1760’s.

In terms of William Shakespeare’s direct ancestors, the earliest
probable candidate was Richard Shakespeare, recorded in 1535 as a
tenant farmer at Snitterfield near Stratford.  He would have been
William’s grandfather.  The story his son John gave that Richard
his father fought for Henry VII during the Wars of the Roses seems to
have been a contrived one.  Richard died in 1561.  Richard’s
son John moved to Stratford in 1551, prospered and married Mary Arden
of the
Arden gentry family
at Park Hall.  However, John
fell on hard times and had to withdraw from public life in Stratford.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) had no direct descendants.
sister Joan, who died in 1646, was the only member of his family whose
known descendants continue to the present day.  Some suspect that
William might have had an elder brother, John a shoemaker in
Stratford.  But this line is unknown.

Outside of the playwright, one notable Shakespeare line – as reported
Burke’s Peerage – began with
marriage of Humphrey Shakespeare and Elinor Scale in 1649.  They
lived in Ipsley in Warwickshire.  These Shakespeares remained in
Warwickshire until the 19th century when two Baptist ministers,
Benjamin and his son John Howard, made the move to
London.   John’s son Geoffrey Shakespeare was the Liberal MP
for Norwich
in the inter-war years.  He was made a baronet in 1942.

line, commencing with the John Shakespear who married Martha Seeley in
1654, was
London-based.  This family lived for many
generations in Stepney.  John Shakepear
was a London Alderman in the 18th century.
Sir Richard Shakespear saw service with the British army in
India in the
mid-19th century.  Captain
, one of the last of the great Victorian
explorers, made his
name in
Arabia where he was the first westerner to meet its ruler Ibn Saud.

There were also Shakespeare lines to be found at
Kingswinford in Staffordshire and around Breedon-on-the-Hill and Ashby
de la
Zouch in Leicestershire.  In the 1881 census and again a
hundred years later, Shakespeare was still primarily a name of the West
Midlands and of Warwickshire in

Caribbean.  David
Shakespear, from the Stepney line, came to Jamaica as a merchant in the
late 18th
century and settled at Hodges Pen.
Probably through him, there are Afro-Caribbeans who bear the
name. Sly and Robbie is a Jamaican reggae group
where the Robbie is Robbie Shakespeare. 

Shakespeare Miscellany

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for
further stories and accounts:

Shakespeare Names

William Shakespeare,
born in Stratford-on-Avon in 1564, was the famous playwright.
William Shakespear

was a Political Agent in
the Middle East in the early 1900’s and the first westerner to meet the
ruler Ibn Saud.

Shakespeares Today

  • 4,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Warwickshire)
  • 1,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)



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