Hi everyone!

A busy family life means I have little time for research, but I’ll leave this website here for the next generation of Shakespeare researchers. Please support the resource by sharing (or at least referencing) the research herein. Thank you.

Here is a list of some excellent reading on Shakespeare from my personal experience – I recommend you take a look.



To Bowdlerise, or not to…

Thomas Bowdler Family Shakespeare

Thomas Bowdler Family Shakespeare

Shakespeare wasn’t always spelt as such. Prior to the 19th century there were numerous variations, the most common being Shakspeare (without the first ‘e’). That all changed thanks to Thomas Bowdler (1754 – 1825) who re-published an adapted works of Shakespeare to cater for women and children of his time. Bowdler’s edition, stripped of obscenities and blasphemies, was published as The Family Shakespeare (1807). This process of expurgation, especially in regard to published works, became known as bowdlerisation.

Thomas Bowdler - The Family Shakespeare - The Times

Thomas Bowdler – The Family Shakespeare – The Times

Shakespeare’s ring to a sailor’s ear

William Shakespeare

Shakespeare Chandos Portrait 1610

The Chandos portrait depicts Shakespeare as having a receding hairline, facial scruff, and a shiny gold hoop hanging from his left ear. Many renditions of Shakespeare’s image have derived from this portrait, also depicting Shakespeare to wear an earring.

The question is, did he?

Earrings were a common fashion on men during the English Renaissance. Sailor’s would wear them at sea to cover funeral costs in the event of their death, and the fashion caught on among courtiers in the 1590s. In Bill Bryson’s book Shakespeare : The World as Stage, he suggests Shakespeare would’ve worn an earring for the same reason men wear them today – “to show that they have an unconventional, adventurous disposition.” He also speaks of Francis Drake and Sir Walter Raleigh, also believed to have worn earrings.

In the 1577 text Description of England by William Harrison can be found the following:

Some lusty courtiers and gentlemen of courage do wear either rings of gold, stones or pearls in their ears whereby they imagine the workmanship of God to be not a little amended. But herein they rather disgrace than adorn their persons.

Sir Walter Raleigh's earring

Sir Walter Raleigh with an Earring

Despite the fashion of the time, it remains debatable whether Shakespeare himself wore an earring. There is no substantial evidence that the Chandos portrait was of the man himself, whereas the Droeshout engraving from the First Folio (1623), a far more likely depiction, shows Shakespeare without an earring. The bust on Shakespeare’s monument in Holy Trinity Church (c. 1623), also without an earring, is further evidence that makes it unlikely.

An occasion for a duel

During the Renaissance, the denigration of a man’s name was occasion for a duel. Naturally.
shakespeare duel

My dear dear lord,
The purest treasure mortal times afford
Is spotless reputation—that away,
Men are but gilded loam, or painted clay.
A jewel in a ten-times barr’d-up chest
Is a bold spirit in a loyal breast.

A quote of Mowbury, Richard The Second

Without public honor, a man’s inner virtues are like a jewel locked with ten bolts in an obscure chest.

A quote of Beatrice, Much Ado About Nothing

A history of the Tudor ruff

Elizabethan Tudor Ruff c.1600

To quote from Blackadder II:

Blackadder : What are you wearing around your neck?
Percy : Ah! It’s my new ruff!
Blackadder : You look like a bird who’s swallowed a plate.
Percy : It’s the latest fashion actually and as a matter of fact it makes me look rather sexy!
Blackadder : To another plate swallowing bird perhaps. If it was blind and hadn’t had it in months.

The Ermine Portrait by Nicholas Hilliard (1585)

The Ermine Portrait by Nicholas Hilliard (1585)

The ruff, one of the more eccentric garments of the Elizabethan era, was a fashion statement to rival those of the 1970s. Starting life as a simple collar, the ruff grew more elaborate through the course of Elizabeth I’s rule to become symbolic of the era. It was a circular collar made from a pleated frill worn by both men and women. On women it covered the neck, chin, shoulders, and breast, and on men it covered the neck and shoulders.

The quality of a ruff was a sign of status. They were worn by aristocrats and proletarians alike, although the quality of material would vary greatly. In the aristocracy, a ruff was likely made of lawne or camerick, both very expensive fine linens. Quality ruff’s were decorated with lace, gold, silver, and fine silk. Ruff’s belonging to wealthy women would often be decorated with decorations to represent the sun, moon, and stars. For the poorer folk, a ruff would likely be made of cheap fabric that would have likely irritated the skin.

Sir Walter Raleigh

Sir Walter Raleigh

When the first ruff came into fashion in the 1560’s, it was a simple accessory measuring approximately 3″ wide by 2″ deep. This was known as either the cartwheel ruff or a fan-shaped ruff. This was a common adornment of the adventurer and courtier to Elizabeth I, Sir Walter Raleigh.

As the ruff became bigger and more flamboyant, it was necessary to use a metal wire frame (gauze wings) at the back to the neck to hold it in place. Laces or strings (band strings) were attached to the opening of the ruff to secure it around the neck. It was common for an elaborate ruff to be held together with hundreds of pins. The material to create a single ruff, in later stages, amounted to as much as five metres of material. Pins were an essential part of Elizabethan clothing which in turn led to a very buoyant pin-making industry.

Cleaning the ruff was far from trivial. Being a fashion accessory it was mandatory to keep the garment in pristine condition, and this was done using vast quantities of starch. This also helped to maintain the shape of the ruff and keep it upright.

The ruff was at times used to add finesse to cuffs and sleeves of clothes.

The ruff was eventually replaced by the standing collar during the reign of James I, but it could be said it led the way for neck ware in years to come.

Portraits of ruffs

Portrait by Michiel Jansz van Miereveldt of Elizabeth Queen of Bohemia 1623

Portrait by Michiel Jansz van Miereveldt of Elizabeth Queen of Bohemia 1623

Portrait by Abraham Rombouts of Anna de Looper c1627

Portrait by Abraham Rombouts of Anna de Looper c1627

Portrait by Michiel Jansz van Miereveldt c1628

Portrait by Michiel Jansz van Miereveldt c1628

Portrait by Michiel Jansz van Miereveldt c1630

Portrait by Michiel Jansz van Miereveldt c1630

Portrait by Thomas de Keyser 1596-1667

Portrait by Thomas de Keyser 1596-1667

He who dispatched King Charles

Execution of Charles I

Execution of Charles I

This is the confession allegedly made by the hangman who dispatched Charles I (from 1649):

His beheading his late Majesty the King of Great Brittain (upon his Death bed) who was buried on Thursday night last, in white Chappell Church-yard, with the manner thereof.
Upon Wednesday last (being the 20. of this instant June, 1649.) Richard Brandon, the late Executioner and Hang-man, who beheaded his late Majesty, King of Great Brittain, departed this life. But during the time of His sicknesse, his Conscience was much troubled, and exceedingly perplexed in mind, yet little shew of repentance, for remission of his sins, and by-past transgressions, which had so much power and influence upon him, that he seemed to live in them and they in him. And upon Sunday last, a young man of his acquaintance going in to visite him, fell into discourse, asked him how he did, and whether he was not troubled in conscience for cutting off of the Kings head?

He replyed, yes! by reason that (upon the time of his tryall, and at the denouncing of Sentence against him) he had taken a vow and protestation, Wishing God to perish him body and soul, if ever he appeared on the scaffold to do the act or lift up his hand against him. Further acknowledging, That he was no sooner entred upon the scaffold, but immediatly he fell a trembling, and hath ever since continued in the like agony.

He likewise confessed, that he had 30. pounds for his pains, all paid him in half Crowns, within an hour after the blow was given, and that he had an Orenge stuck full of Cloves, and a handkircher out of the Kings pocket, so soon as he was carryed off from the Scaffold, for which Orenge, he was proffered 20. shillings by a Gentleman in Whitehall, but refused the same, and afterwards sold it for tens in Rose-mary Lane.

About 6 of the clock at night, he returned home to his wife living in Rose-mary lane, and gave her the money, saying, That it was the deerest money that ever he earn’d in his life, for it would cost him his life. Which propheticall words were soon made manifest; for it appeared, that ever since he hath been in a most sad condition, and upon the Almighties first scourging of him with the Rod of meeknesse, and the friendly admonition of divers friends, for the calling of him to repentance, yet he persisted on in his vicious Vices, and would not hearken thereunto, but lay raging and swearing, and still pointing at one thing or another, which he conceived to appear visible before him.

About three dayes before he dy’d he lay speechlesse, uttering many a sigh and heavy groan, and so in a most desparate manner departed from his bed of sorrow. For the buriall whereof, a great store of Wines were sent in, by the Sheriff of the City of London, and a great multitude of people stood wayting to see his Corps carryed to the Church-yard, some crying out, Hang him Rogue, bury him in the Dung-hill; others pressing upon him, saying, They would quarter him, for executing of the King: Insomuch, that the Church-wardens and Masters of the Parish were fain to come for the suppressing of them, and (with great difficulty) he was at last carryed to White-chappell Church-yard, having (as it is said) a bunch of Rosemary at each end of the coffin, on the top thereof, with a Rope tyed crosse from one end to the other.

And a merry conceited Cook living at the sign of the Crown, having a black Fan (worth the value of 30 shillings) took a resolution to rent the same in pieces, and to every feather tyed a piece of pack-thread dy’d in black Ink, and gave them to divers persons, who (in derision) for a while, wore them in their hats.

The many faces of Shakespeare

Shakespeare's First Folio

Shakespeare’s First Folio, published 1623.

The First Folio was published  in 1623, featuring the first picture in print of Shakespeare. Taken from a copper engraving by Flemish engraver Martin Droeshout, it is believed to be an accurate depiction of Shakespeare. Both editors of the First Folio, John Heminges and Henry Condell, were colleagues of Shakespeare and knew him personally. This makes the likeness even more probable.

Grafton Portrait 1588

Grafton Portrait 1588

The Grafton Portrait is inscribed with the date 1588, which would make Shakespeare a 24-year-old man. It is said by experts to depict Shakespeare accurately in his younger years.

The portrait was named in the early 20th century, from being bequeathed to the owner’s ancestor by one of the Dukes of Grafton. The artist is not known.

Sanders Portrait 1603

Sanders Portrait 1603

The Sanders Portrait, said to be the work of the little-known artist John Sanders in 1603, is one of the most disputed portraits of Shakespeare. There is only circumstantial evidence that ties the portrait to Shakespeare, and a large section where the sitter’s right shoulder should’ve been is missing.

Chandos Portrait 1610

Chandos Portrait 1610

The Chandos Portrait, possibly by Richard Burbage or John Taylor, dates back to 1610 and is believed to be an accurate rendition of Shakespeare at an age of 46.

Janssen Portrait 1610

Janssen Portrait 1610

The Janssen Portrait, believed to be from 1610 by artist Cornelis Janssen (1581-1613), was originally believed to be an accurate rendition of Shakespeare at the time. A more recent investigation found the portrait to have been altered to make the subject look balder. These alterations were professionally removed in 1988.

The work is now believed to be of the Jacobean courtier Thomas Overbury, and it is now debated whether Cornelis Janssen was the true artist.

Flower Portrait 1623

Flower Portrait 1623

The Flower Portrait is one of the most widely recognised paintings of Shakespeare, originally believed to date c1820 to 1840. It is a rendition of the famous engraving which appeared in the first printed edition of Shakespeare’s plays, published in 1623. The portrait was bought by Edgar Flower in 1892 and donated to the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1895.

The portrait was later determined to be a fake based on chrome yellow pigment which was not available during the period it was believed to be painted. This evidence dates the portrait to be late 19th century.

Soest Portrait 1660s

Soest Portrait 1660s

The Soest Portrait, by Dutch-born artist Gerard (Gilbert) Soest, is believed to be one of the earliest examples of a memorial portrait and was likely produced in the late 1660s.

There are likenesses in the features to the Chandos Portrait, although given the date it is apparent Shakespeare is depicted as a younger man. In later years Shakespeare is said to wear a bohemian earring, but there is no reliable evidence of this.

A murder of a maid – Thomas Savage

Thomas Savage

Thomas Savage from

The following excerpts can be found in A Complete History of the Lives and Robberies of the Most Notorious Highwaymen, Footpads, Shoplifts, and Cheats of Both Sexes by Captain Alexander Smith. They document the murder of a maid by a sixteen year old apprentice, a Thomas Savage from St Giles in the Fields. It is said the accused was later captured and hung for his deed.

Historical records of the era detail a Thomas Savage, 3rd Earl Rivers (born 1628), who died 14th September 1694 on Great Queens Street, St Giles in the Fields.  Thomas Savage was a wealthy royalist and reputable person of note, but it is recorded he had three children – Richard Savage (4th Earl Rivers, born 1654), Elizabeth Savage, and a Thomas Savage (born circa 1648). A connection between this Thomas Savage and the Thomas Savage spoken of in the excerpt is speculation, but there is likely a connection given the date and location.

The following text is paraphrased as the original text is several pages long.

This unhappy person, namely Thomas Savage, was born of honest parents in the parish of St Giles in the Fields.

Breaking the Sabbath (by his own confession) was the first inlet of his vices, especially whoredom, drunkenness, and theft; for frequenting a bawdy-house in Ratcliff Highway, he there became acquainted with one Hannah Blay, a vile common strumpet, to whom he would often carry two or three bottles of wine at a time, to junket with her.

The strumpet, her wicked desires unsatisfied, requests Thomas bring her money, which he may do by robbing his master. This is something Thomas can not do, as at home the maid is always with him. The strumpet entices Thomas to murder the maid:

Hang the jade, quoth she, knock her brains out, and I’ll receive the money, and go anywhere with you beyond sea, to avoid the stroke of justice.

On the day of the murder, the strumpet made him “almost drunk with bad brandy” before sending him on his way between 12 and 1 o’clock.

The maid then upbraiding him with having been at a bawdy-house, which would be the ruin of him in the end, he was much vexed with her, and while he was at dinner, the devil entered so strongly into him that he resolved within himself to kill her.

He went into the bar and fetched a hammer, with which he began to make a great noise, as he sat by the fire, by knocking on the bellows. Hereupon says the maid to him: “Sure the boy is mad! Sirrah, what do you make this noise for?”

To this he made no answer, but going to the kitchen- window began to knock and make the same noise there, of which the maid then taking no notice, he, to provoke her, got on the clean dresser, and walked up and down thereon several times with his dirty shoes. This piece of malice exasperating the maid, so that she scolded at him pretty heartily, he threw the hammer at her suddenly with such violence that, hitting her on the head, it felled her to the ground, and she shrieked out. He then went and took up the hammer, intending to repeat the blow, but laid it down again thrice, not being yet hardened enough in cruelty to strike her any more; but at last, taking it up the fourth time, the devil had then gained such an absolute mastery over him that he gave her several strokes with all the force he could, and quickly dispatched her out of the world.

The account is several pages long, speaking of the eventual capture of Thomas Savage, but a strange turn of events occur when the man is hanged:

The sheriff ordered him to be cut down, when, being received into the arms of some of his friends, he was conveyed into a house not far from the place of execution. There being laid upon a table, he began, to the astonishment of the beholders, to breathe, and rattle in the throat, so that it was evident life was whole in him. Hereupon he was carried from thence to a bed in the same house, where he breathed more strongly, and opened his eyes and mouth, though his teeth were set before, and he offered to speak, but could not recover the use of his tongue.

However, his reviving being blazed abroad within an hour, the sheriff’s officers came to the house where he was, and carrying him back to the place of execution, hung him up again till he was really dead.

It was a common belief at the time that if a prisoner survived a hanging it was deemed as an Act of God, meaning the prisoner would be set free. The accuracy of the above paragraph is therefore open to debate.

As for the strumpet, it was said she delayed her execution by claiming to be pregnant. Often, in these cases it is common to escape execution.

More can be read on Google Books and ExClassics.