Welcome to Episode #59 of That Shakespeare Life, the podcast that takes you behind the curtain and into the life of William Shakespeare.

After William Shakespeare made his name in London, established himself as a gentleman at home, he returned to Stratford Upon Avon to seek his status as a gentleman, aquiring not only a coat of arms, but the second largest house in town. New Place was brought with considerable legal wranglings, however, and the story of how Shakespeare came to own his famous house is filled with fights, suspicion, murder, and even a few ghosts. It’s a tale fit for a playwright and here to share this story with us is the man who wrote the book on the Shakespeare history of Stratford Upon Avon, the author of Shakespeare’s Country Families, Mr. John Taplin.

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John Taplin spent the majority of his career in management in the telecommunications industry until 2001 when he joined the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust at Hall’s Croft and Nash’s House/New Place in Stratford-upon-Avon, until retiring in 2010. An historian, genealogist and biographer, he has published articles on Shakespeare, his contemporaries and associates in and around Stratford, including the families directly associated with New Place, Shakespeare’s Stratford home, before and after Shakespeare’s lifetime. In 2011 he published his book Shakespeare’s Country Families – A Documentary Guide to Shakespeare’s Country Society. He was a member of the Advisory Board for the Trust’s Dig for Shakespeare project at New Place headed by Dr. Paul Edmondson between 2010-15, and in 2018 he published a revised and updated edition of his 2011 book. He has a Masters degree in historical studies from the University of Leicester in the UK.

 

In this episode, I’ll be asking John about :

  • Did Bott steal New Place out from under the Cloptons?

     

  • When Shakespeare bought New Place, was he buying a haunted house?
     

  • Why is New Place not still standing there today?

    …. and more!

I'll stay at home. 
Countess

Alls Well That Ends Well, I.3

Clopton Bridge, Stratford Upon Avon. Photo 2009 Source

The Cloptons

In 1563, William Clopton (neé 1538) sold New Place to William Bott. Mr. Clopton was an avid traveller to Italy, and sold off New Place to finance his journeys. His father, also named William, was an important Catholic figure in the town, even being said to have served wafers to Queen Mary I. 

William Clopton's mother, Elizabeth Grey, was buried in Holy Trinity Church in Stratford on  January 31 1559. While the location at the church where her body rests is unclear, she is thought to be buried in the so-called Clopton Chapel located on north aisle of the church. William Bott, the man who would buy New Place, was also the elder William Clopton's agent.

 William Bott would sell New Place to William Underhill, the man from whom Shakespeare would purchase New Place, in 1567. William Shakespeare bought New Place in 1597.

 

Sir Hugh, persuade me not; I will make a Star- 
chamber matter of it.

Robert Shallow

Merry Wives of Windsor, I.1

Engraving of the Star Chamber, published in “Old and new London” in 1873, taken from a drawing made in 1836. Source

The Star Chamber

The Star Chamber was an English court from the 15-17th centuries. English court basically means a large room where important people hold legal, formal, and state occasions. The Star Chamber was considered, for its' time, one of the most just courts in existence. 

It was setup as a place where men of prominence could be tried fairly and convicted of crimes that lower courts would be scared to take on for fear of the power these important people held. Unfortunately, the court saw itself devolve eventually into a place of political oppression, but during Shakespeare's lifetime, the court was remarked upon by one of the best jurors of the Elizabethan era, Sir Edward Coke as, “The most honourable court (Our Parliament excepted) that is in the Christian world. Both in respect of the judges in the court and its honourable proceeding.”

The fact that Bott was charged in the Star Chamber reflects his standing as a substantial land holder in the town. The charges against him were fierce and Clopton must have felt he would only get a fair hearing if the claims were made known at The Star Chamber specifically. 

 

Go thou toward home

Bertram

Alls Well That Ends Well, II.5

Scroll through to see several images of New Place and from Stratford Upon Avon. The first image is a representation of New Place done by JCM Bellew in 1863, titled ” Shakespeare's home at New Place, Stratford-upon-Avon“; the second and third images are of my trip to Stratford Upon Avon, the first being the Guildhall and Schoolroom where you can see New Place just down the street on the same side as the school, followed by the gate in the front of where New Place was situated, greeting visitors there today.

Across from Guildhall, Second Largest House

New Place was built in 1483 by Sir Hugh Clopton, Lord Mayor of London and the Clopton family for whom the Clopton Bridge is named after. At the time, the timber and brick construction of New Place was an innovative style of construction. The home had 10 fireplaces, two barns, and an orchard.

William Shakespeare died in this house in 1616, and while the home itself no longer exists, the land is owned by Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. You can visit the site and walk through the gardens that are maintained there for tourists.

Tis a spell, you see, of much power: you know the 
way home again.

Second Senator

Coriolanus, V.2

Artist impression of Shakespeare's New Place (opening July 2016). Source

The Underhills

When William Shakespeare was 4 years old, New Place was passed from William Underhill to his son, William Underhill II, in 1570. It was this man who would sell New Place to Shakespeare nearly 30 years later in 1597, for £60. Just two months after he sold the property, William Underhill II died under suspicious circumstances. It would come to light that he had been poisoned by his son, Fulke Underhill. Before it was sorted it out that Fulke had murdered his father, Fulke himself died in 1598. Depending on which history you  consult, the details get murky here, but according to some, Fulke was hanged in 1598 as a result of being discovered he murdered his father. Once he was dead, his property–including New Place– was forfeit to the crown since he was now a convicted felon. Fulke's younger brother would take possession of the house in 1602, and William Shakespeare negotiated the sale from him. 

That story conflicts with the idea that Shakespeare purchased the house in 1597, but fits with the story that Shakespeare had to deal with several legal wrangling to purchase the home, including dealing with Bott the agent, who would have handled the home's management while court proceedings were taking place. Combining Fulke's felony and Bott's murdered daughter, and Shakespeare had a great deal of doing to own the house free and clear.

 

Yonder is a most reverend gentleman, who, belike 
having received wrong by some person, is at most 
odds with his own gravity and patience that ever you 
saw.

Page

Merry Wives of Windsor, III.1

Portrait of Francis Gastrell (1662-1725), Bishop of Chester by Michael Dahl

Reverend Gastrell

 

Whatever his other accomplishments, the Reverend Gastrell will forever be remembered by posterity as the man who demolished Shakespeare's house. 

In the mid 1700s, Gastrell came to own the house as it was sold to pay debts. By this time, David Garrick had made Shakespeare and Stratford Upon Avon quite famous, with his grand jubilee. Garrick and his fellows popularized Shakespeare to such a degree that several hundreds of pilgrims flocked to the town annually to visit Shakespeare's last home. Gastrell found this annoying and locked up the garden, and the mulberry tree which William Shakespeare is said to have planted, and that he requested to look upon as he died. 

When the pilgrims were undeterred by the locked garden, Gastrell cut down the mulberry tree. Angered by his actions, the town and Gastrell ended up in a kind of feud that resulted in Gastrell being run out of town, but not before he dismantled New Place. Some say he tore it apart, while others say he burned it to the ground. Either way, Gastrell destroyed the last home of William Shakespeare in a fit of rage.

Shakespeare's Place in History

A timeline showing Shakespeare's life, when he wrote his plays, and what was going on in England.

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