Bill Wobblepole's Life Of Crime

Let's return to young Bill Wobblepole and his early life of crime and doggerel. (The same thing surely?)

These are just a few of the tall tales, scurrilous stories and downright lies about Shakespeare's pre-fame days in Stratford and beyond.

Originally posted on Twitter on the Thursday 25th July 2019.
Images via @britishlibrary's Flickr collection.
Round The Horne cast photo from the BBC Archives.

The famous portrait of the older William Shakespeare.

A Brief History Of Bill

Baptised on April 1564, born probably/possibly on St George's Day[*] to a glove-maker who served as an alderman and the daughter of a gentleman farmer in Stratford-upon-Avon.

The birthplace of Shakespeare.  A gentleman farmer's house with dog in foreground and church in the distance.

During WWII, a Mrs Turner of Fenny Compton met a ghost in the upstairs rooms of Bill's childhood home. The little old lady, clad in ye olde clothing of black dress and cap, turned from her spinning wheel, greeted Mrs T cheerily and then vanished.

[*] The 23rd; also the date of his death 52 years, 39 plays, 154 sonnets and a couple of narrative poems later.


He probably wrote all of that but you know what Shakespeare scholars are like, always getting their knickers in a twist about who wrote what when.

Frontispiece Of Shakespeare's Collected Works.

Private Life

About his private life too:

In 1582 Bill married Anne Hathaway, the daughter of a yeoman farmer from Shottery.

He may also have had a mistress or a few gentleman friends (or all of the above) but let's glide gently past all that business and get to the wedding...

Which may have taken place at Luddington Church but we can't check because the registers were burned to brew tea sometime in 1612[*].

Lady Utica Celestina Beecham claimed that they'd wed at Clopton House's chapel but she claimed a lot of things for Clopton as we know.

A sketch of a Tudor-built, somewhat ramshackle house akin to Clopton House in it's middle period.

[*] Nothing, but nothing, is sacred when a Brit needs a cuppa.

Or it could have been the private chapel at Shottery's old manor house in a service by the Rev Mascall, friend of the couple and vicar at Wootton Wawen (where Henrietta Knight was originally buried).


Anyway, by 1585 cash was a bit tight and Bill needed to put food on the table.

What's a lad to do but go poaching?

Clopton House was targeted and the Lucy estate at Charlecote, both for deer and rabbits. It was said that Bill cooked the booty at Dun Cow Inn near Wilmcote.

A drawing of a rabbit hiding in the foliage.

There was a popular local ditty about this a century or two later:

O, the rising of the sun,
The chasing of the deer;
Shakespeare went to Charlecote Park
At this merry time of year.


Charlecote didn't have a Park at the time so no deer. Possibly rabbits but Bill was more likely poaching nearer to Fulbrook.

Either way, Bill was caught and prosecuted by Sir Thomas Lucy.

Life Lesson 1: Don't poach on a Justice Of The Peace's patch.

Later Bill took his revenge by caricaturing Lucy as Justice Shallow in Henry IV and Merry Wives Of Windsor.

Life Lesson 2: Don't prosecute a budding playwright and national icon.

Except...that may have been a dig at William Gardner from Surrey instead.

An illustration from Merry Wives Of Windsor.

But before all that, Bill took to rhyming his revenge, pinning this to the gates of Charlecote:

A parliament member, a Justice of The Peace,
At home a scarecrow, in London an ass;
If lousy is Lucy, as some folk miscall it,
Then Lucy is lousy whatever befalls it.

There's more but you get the idea.

In the 1680s another ballad was credited to Bill:

Sir Thomas was too covetous,
To cover so much deer;
When horns enough upon his head
Most plainly did appear.

A drawing of three roe deer in a copse.


See Above.


By the mid-1580s it's probable Bill was already touring with Worcester's or The Admiral's Men.


After a fatality in the audience that shut down the troupe, Bill returned to Stratford for a while in 1587/8.

He dashed off Henry VI while he was home.

Both troupes would have played a number of local Guildhalls, notably Coventry where he also took part in a performance of Pericles with The King's Men in 1609. The Market Hall at Henley-in-Arden too, which was famous for its Miracle Plays in the C15th.

A caricature of William Shakespeare.

Irrelevant Aside:
There's a Julian And Sandy sketch from Round The Horne with both of them baffled having seen "Henry V and VI"; assuming a comma was missing, they can't work out why V and Vi didn't appear in the play.

Well it made me chuckle.

Hugh Paddick & Kenneth Williams (Julian & Sandy) in a cast photograph from a recording of Round The Horne.

Coming in next week's over-long Folklore Thursday tweet thread:

Wobblepole's Guide To The Villages And
Arboreal Sleeping (It Off) Spots Of Warwickshire