Shakespeare’s ancestors and Christopher Wren

I’ve never given much thought to Shakespeare’s family, but I’m currently staying at Wroxall Abbey in Warwickshire (on a ‘writing retreat’ focusing on teaching), and have found an unexpected history to the place. I knew that the building the hotel occupies was a Victorian Gothic building (which is beautiful) which has a history as a residence and then a girls’ school before it became a hotel, but it turns out that the Abbey from which the building takes its name was founded in 1141 on the site, and ruins (and I do love ruins) of the medieval Lady Chapel are on the site. Relatives of Shakespeare (and after all, we’re not far from Stratford here) were involved in the running of the Abbey: in 1501 Isabella Shakespeare was Prioress, and in 1524 Joan Shakespeare was Sub-Prioress. Later, in the 1530s, Richard Shakespeare, grandfather of William, was Bailiff of the Church. We know that Shakespeare was born and raised in the Anglican Church (as was usual at the time) but I wonder what he knew about his family at Wroxall? It’s interesting to speculate if the Abbess in The Comedy of Errors might owe anything to his forebears.

With the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the house became a private estate, with an Elizabethan manor which was home to the High Sheriff of Warwickshire (and continued to be the home of Sheriffs, including Wren’s grandson).





 The estate later became the home of the architect Sir Christopher Wren, in 1713, and his family are buried in the churchyard. The church is now known as Wren’s Cathedral. However, the house in which Wren lived is no longer standing; when the Dugdale family bought the estate in 1861, they demolished it in favour of a more fashionable Victorian Gothic mansion. The grounds are amazing, though, and give a glimpse of what Wren might have enjoyed here in their green open spaces, as well as the picturesque ruins.


  1. I’ve read a book and seen a TV special that posited that Shakespeare was a secret Catholic. Apparently he worked as a tutor in a Catholic household before he went to London, and there are other indications.

  2. Excellent post. I knew quite a lot about Shakespeare’s family, but I have never heard his paternal relatives mentioned in relation to Wroxall Abbey. That Isabella Shakespeare was Prioress in 1501 and Joan Shakespeare was Sub-Prioress in the 1520s was impressive. And Richard Shakespeare, grandfather of William, was Bailiff of the Church was even more impressive.

    What a honourable family Shakespeare must have come from.

  3. Yes, I’ve heard this although not much detail. I suppose it might be true, although he was certainly brought up Protestant, I think.

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