John Shakespeare was buried in Stratford-upon-Avon on 8 September 1601 after becoming an influential and important member of the town. He had moved to Stratford-upon-Avon with his wife, Mary, in 1551. He worked as a glover and become a well-known member of the Stratford town council. When his eldest son William was four years old, John Shakespeare took up the highest office in the town and served as bailiff.
He did not always enjoy an untroubled life as a respected member of Stratford-upon-Avon, however. Between 1570 and 1590, John Shakespeare encountered ongoing financial difficulties which brought him to court on numerous occasions. He developed problematic business interests and often absented himself from council meetings. During those years, he was prosecuted for unlicensed dealing in wool, for charging interest above the legal limit of 10 per cent and for recusancy. He was named in court cases for his involvement in the illegal wool-trade and for usury, including the loan of £220 with interest to Walter Mussum in 1570.
He also stopped attending church because he was afraid he might be harassed for payment of the debts he was unable to repay. In 1592 he was name on a list of people who ‘obstinately refused to resort to the church’. People who did not attend Protestant church services and who secretly worshipped as Catholics were known as recusants. They faced harsh fines when they failed to go to church. Although John Shakespeare was listed among the recusants in 1592, he was one of nine people who claimed that they avoided church ‘for fear of process of debt’ rather than for religious reasons.
A few years later, John Shakespeare applied for a coat of arms in recognition of his honourable service to the crown. In October 1593, a coat of arms was granted and in 1599, they were amended to include the arms of the Arden family. By the time he died in 1601, John Shakespeare was known as a gentleman who could pass on the title to his son, William Shakespeare.
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