On this day in 1623 Anne Hathaway, English wife of William Shakespeare, died.
Hathaway married Shakespeare in November 1582 while pregnant with the couple’s first child, to whom she gave birth six months later.
Hathaway was 26/27 years old; Shakespeare was only 18. This age difference, added to Hathaway’s antenuptial pregnancy, have been employed by some historians as evidences that it was a “shotgun wedding”, forced on a reluctant Shakespeare by the Hathaway family. There is, however, no evidence for this inference.
For a time it was believed that this view could be supported by documents from the Episcopal Register at Worcester, which records in Latin the issuing of a wedding licence to “Wm Shaxpere” and one “Annam Whateley” of Temple Grafton.
The day afterwards, Fulk Sandells and John Richardson, friends of the Hathaway family from Stratford, signed a surety of £40 as a financial guarantee for the wedding of “William Shakespeare”.
Frank Harris, in The Man Shakespeare (1909), argued that these documents are evidence that Shakespeare was involved with two women.
He had chosen to marry one Anne Whateley, but, when this became known, he was immediately forced by Hathaway’s family to marry their pregnant relative.
Harris believed that “Shakespeare’s loathing for his wife was measureless” because of his entrapment by her, and that this was the spur to his decision to leave Stratford and pursue a career in the theatre.