Who Were Shakespeare's Children?

Shakespeare is a monument in literature, and it's easy to forget that he was, in fact, a man with an ordinary, workaday life. Don't believe the urban legends about Shakespeare not ever existing, or not writing his plays: we know plenty about the Bard's life. We know, for instance, that he was born on April 23, 1564, to a well-to-do glovemaker named John Shakespeare and his wife, Mary Arden, in Stratford (via the Folger Library). We know that he was acting in and producing plays in London by the time he was 28. We know when his first volumes were published, details of his real estate investments (including a villa in his home town), and what roles he played in his own plays (Hamlet, Othello, Richard III, according to the Royal Shakespeare Company). 

We also know about his family life. Shakespeare married 26-year-old Anne Hathaway (no, not that Anne Hathaway) when he was 18. She was already pregnant with their first child at the time of their wedding (per Folger Library); two more came later.

Susanna Shakespeare

The first of Shakespeare's children was a girl named Susanna. Her birth in 1583, just after her parents' wedding, may have provoked some mild scandal, but according to the Folger Library this was "a fairly common situation at the time."

We know very little about Susanna. According to the Shakespeare Trust, she married a doctor, John Hall, in 1607, with whom she had a daughter, Elizabeth. (Their home, Hall's Croft in Stratford upon Avon, is pictured above.) William Shakespeare chose the couple as the executors of his will, and left them most of his real estate investments, including the New Place villa in Stratford. As to her education, we know nothing. She could write her name, but it's not completely clear that she was literate. That may be surprising, given that he father was perhaps the greatest writer to ever live, but as the Folger Library points out, Shakespeare seems to have lived in London for most of his life, away from his wife and children. Susanna's home life may not have been any more intellectual and exciting than her neighbors'.

But people clearly saw something in Susanna. Toward her end of her life, she entertained Henrietta Marie, King Charles I's formidable French consort, at New Place. Perhaps the queen wanted to hear stories about her favorite author.

The twins: Hamnet and Judith

In 1585, Hathaway (above) gave birth to twins, a boy and a girl. They called the girl Judith and the boy Hamnet (via the Royal Shakespeare Company). Very little is known about the twins. Hamnet died at the age of 11; Judith lived in Stratford, marrying one Thomas Quiney at 31. Quiney was 26, according to the Shakespeare Trust, in a curious replication of her own parents' age discrepancy. Their marriage never lacked drama. Quiney had a lover who gave birth to his child, shortly after he and Judith married. The lady died in childbirth along with the child, and Quiney was condemned to a public, humiliating penance. But the couple would go on to have three sons of their own, of whom only the oldest — Shakespeare Quiney — lived to adulthood. 

Hamnet remains a mystery. Many people have noted the similarity between his name and Shakespeare's most enduring character, Prince Hamlet. The connection seems to be coincidental; according to the Shakespeare Trust, Hamnet and Judith were named after two family friends, the Sadlers. But Hamnet's early death may have inspired one of the saddest passages in Shakespeare'e oeuvre, Constance's lament for her son in "King John":

"Grief fills the room up of my absent child / Lies in his bed, walks up and down with me / Puts on his pretty looks /... my fair son! / My life, my joy, my food, my all the world!"

Shakespeare's grandchildren

What happened to Shakespeare's grandchildren, the two who lived to adulthood? We have very few clues. According to the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, Susannah's daughter, Elizabeth Hall, was baptized in February 1608, which means her grandfather likely watched her grow up. (Shakespeare died in 1616, when she was 8 years old.) He must have been fond of her: he left £150, a large sum, to be divided between her and her Aunt Judith. Elizabeth would marry twice, first to a man named Thomas Nash, then, after his death, to one Sir John Barnard, for whom she left her grandfather's villa at New Place in Stratford and moved to a manor in Northhamptonshire. She died in 1670.

Judith's son, Shakespeare Quiney, was born in 1616, so he never knew his grandfather. Very little is known about him. We don't even know when he died or if he married. The house where he presumably grew up, and where his father, Thomas Quiney, sold wine and tobacco, is still standing, according to the Shakespeare Blog. Judith would die in 1662, aged 72; the parish record of her death does not mention her son (via Folger Library). She likely had outlived her son, since her estate went to her brother-in-law.