William Shakespeare

By Beachcomber (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Did Shakespeare have an older brother?

Posted on: 16/08/2013 with tags: christopher marlowe, Rory Clements, Shakespeare, Tudor

Here at H for History we are all big fans of William Shakespeare, and like to follow all the various conspiracy theories and renewed discussions of authorship.

We are also incredibly lucky to publish exceptionally talented writers who deal with these issues in their brilliant historical novels. One of these is Rory Clements, whose award-winning historical crime series features William Shakespeare’s older brother, John, as an Elizabethan ‘Intelligencer’ who is tasked with taking down villains who threaten the Queen.

This week, Rory spoke to us about the inspiration behind the character of John Shakespeare:

‘When I talk at literary events about my John Shakespeare series of Elizabethan thrillers, I am frequently asked whether Will Shakespeare did indeed have an older brother called John. Well, of course, he’s real to me and there is a record in the Holy Trinity Church register for JONE Shakespeare being baptised in October 1558, the date of my John Shakespeare’s birth (and, let’s face it, they spelt everything wrong in those days).

Now I have come across more evidence while reading Edmund Malone’s 18th Century book, Historical Account of the Rise and Progress of the English Stage. Malone, a close friend of Samuel Johnson and one of the greatest Shakespearean scholars, wrote this: It is extremely improbable that in so numerous a family not one of the sons should have been baptised by the Christian name of old Mr Shakespeare. I now therefore believe (though I was formerly of a different opinion) that our poet’s eldest brother bore his father’s Christian name John.’

You can find out lots more about Rory’s historical crime series on his website.

For further reading, we highly recommend Ros Barber’s award-winning debut novel-in-verse The Marlowe Papers, in which poet and scholar Ros challenges the belief that celebrated playwright (and one of Shakespeare’s contemporaries) Christopher Marlowe was killed in a London tavern brawl in 1593.

Amy Dolman

Post author: Amy Dolman

Amy is responsible for the smooth running of the H for History website, and enjoys reading history-based fantasy. She also like to photograph sites of historical interest in her spare time with a cup of bovril and a pork pie for company. Favourite period of history: Ancient; Favourite historical read: Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave; Upcoming book i'm most looking forward to: Mister Memory by Marcus Sedgwick

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