The Woolpack Man

 

John Shakspeare’s Monument in

Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-on-Avon

 

“We’ll set thy statue in some Holy Place, and have thee reverenced” 1 Henry VI

 

Richard J. Kennedy

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1688.  A Wool-pack is a great number of Fleeces made up together in a cloth tied at the four ends. -- OED

 

I believe you have raised a serious problem about the traditions surrounding this monument, and cast some fresh light on its original state. Your argument that the first bust was of John Shakespeare, seems to me very cogent, and deserves wide circulation. -- Brian Vickers
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John Shakspeare, Woolman

 

Pictured below are close-ups of the figure sitting in the niche of the Shakspeare monument in Holy Trinity church, Stratford-on-Avon. To the left is the figure as pictured in William Dugdale’s Antiquities of Warwickshire, first in 1656 and again in 1730.  The other is a photograph of the figure that occupies the monument today.

 

 

 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


                                   Dugdale 1656 – 1730                                                 ? -  2005

 

The figure pictured in Dugdale’s Antiquities shows a man with his hands resting on a sack of some sort. The figure we see today is of a man writing on a cushion.  In her 1914 study of the monument, musing on the Dugdale engraving, Mrs. C.C. Stopes found the item in question "suspiciously resembling a woolsack."  (Stopes, 118)  If the object is indeed a sack of some sort, the suspicion of Stopes is given credit when we learn that William Shakspeare’s father was a “considerable dealer in wool.” (Rowe, vol., I Intro.) Therefore, the thesis presented here is that Dugdale sketched the original effigy correctly, an effigy honoring William's father, John Shakspeare. A woolpack was a familiar object in Shakspeare’s day.  Here are three examples of emblematic woolpacks emblazoned on civic coats of arms. 

                           

            Guildford                                 Pudsey Borough Council                                Surrey

 
 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

John Shakspeare (1530 -1601) was a prosperous gentleman, elected as an Alderman and High Bailiff of Stratford (equivalent to Mayor) and a considerable dealer in wool, as noted. It was a common tribute in sepulture that a man of worth should share his tomb with an emblematic token of his mortal accomplishment.  Up to the date of 1730, at least, those who visited Holy Trinity church would have seen the Shakspeare figure as pictured by Dugdale, three quarters of a century of the Woolpack Man in public view, attested by eyewitnesses, 1656-1730.

 

The Woolpack Man – Three Eyewitnesses

 

The first eyewitness is William Dugdale (1605-1686), a much esteemed Warwickshire Antiquarian who made a sketch of the monument in 1634, and oversaw the engraving in the 1656 edition of his mighty folio, The Antiquities of Warwickshire.

 

The second eyewitness is Thomas Betterton (1635-1710), a London actor devoted to the plays of Shakespeare.  He journeyed to Stratford to collect what memories remained of the Shakspeare family.  Betterton passed on this information to Nicholas Rowe, who published the first collected edition of Shakespeare's plays in six volumes, 1709, and reprinted in 1714. Making use of Betterton's investigations, Rowe wrote the first biography of the Stratford Shakspeares. It was Betterton who noted that John Shakspeare was "a considerable dealer in wool."  Rowe offered a new engraving of the Shakspeare monument, the chief feature of the monument to be the same as pictured by Dugdale, the figure of a man resting his hands on a woolpack.

 

The third eyewitness is Dr. William Thomas (1670 -1738), a celebrated Antiquarian and native of Warwickshire who labored for twenty years to publish the second edition of Dugdale's Antiquities, 1730, bringing it up to date. In the township section of Stratford, he added three folio pages of corrections, additions, and noted such tombs, plaques, and windows that had gone missing since Dugdale's time. He left the Shakspeare monument as engraved for the 1656 first edition, a man resting his hands on a woolpack.

 

These eyewitnesses were respectable men with no reason to beguile history or dupe the reader. William Dugdale was much honored as an Antiquarian, later to become Garter King-of-Arms. Thomas Betterton was hailed in his time as highly as Laurence Olivier in this day, a man noted for his prudence and modesty.  His confidant, Nicholas Rowe, was to become Poet Laureate of England. Dr. William Thomas was an Antiquarian of the highest regard.

 

 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


                            Dugdale’s original c. 1634     The Antiquities 1656 – 1730   Rowe’s Plays, 1709 - 1714

 

For three quarters of a century, then, (1656-1730), we have three published eyewitness accounts that the original Shakspeare monument was pictured rightly as to the chief feature, a man resting his hands on a woolpack, arms akimbo, with no objection on record that it was otherwise.

 

The Copyist Theory

 

This is the theory put forward by those who claim that the Woolpack Man never existed. It asks us to question the integrity and industry of the eyewitnesses cited above. The theory can be simply stated, it goes like this: Dugdale got it wrong, and thereafter the other eyewitnesses copied his work instead of trusting their own eyes.  That’s the Copyist Theory entirely, there’s no more to it.  It proposes a sort of chronic, lack-a-day Antiquarian interest of all involved.

 

Manifest Mistakes

 

At the end of several pages devoted to Stratford in the Antiquities, Dugdale says, “One thing more, in reference to this ancient Town, is observable, that it gave birth and sepulture to our late famous Poet. Will. Shakespere, whose Monument I have inserted in my discourse of the Church.” (Dugdale, II-697) Being thus invited by Dugdale to turn back a few pages and look upon the monument as it stood in his day, the reader would see the figure of the Woolpack Man, displaying a familiar emblem of the trade, a woolpack turned upright in the picture, the four corners tied off. 

 

Dr. William Thomas (he was Rector at Exhall), the editor of the 1730 second edition of the Antiquities, wrote that he wished to “represent things as really they are, and not as they should be.”  He took as his task to correct all “manifest mistakes” found in the 1656 edition. (Dugdale, I-x) Regarding the chief feature in the hundreds of tomb engravings, Thomas found no “manifest mistakes,” save only one. There is a fault noticed by Thomas in the tomb of Lady Burdet of Shuttenton.

 

Lady Burdet’s effigy is in repose upon her tomb. She has her palms together at her breast, praying.  Thomas remarks:  “This is reported to be the Tomb of that Lady Burdet who was killed by her Husband; it is said that she had her hands cut off as she held them up in a supplicating posture, of which she died; and her statue on this tomb is with her hands cut off in the middle, though the Engraver has made them whole.” (Dugdale, II-1128)

 

Surely this “fault” is an allowed grace. Upon his rounds of the Warwickshire churches and cathedrals, over a period of many years, Thomas found no other fault with Dugdale’s monumental tombs as to the chief feature of those tombs as pictured in the Antiquities. From 1656 to 1730, the visitors entering Holy Trinity to view the Shakspeare monument would see the figure of the Woolpack Man, John Shakspeare. Other woolmen of lesser fame were proud to be noticed for their brotherhood in the wool trade.  Dugdale recorded these following inscriptions from Holy Trinity, two departed woolmen, calling upon the trade to exalt them in death, both men sometimes Chief Bailiff of Stratford, as was John Shakspeare  (Dugdale, II-690-692)

 

 HEARE LIETH INTOMBED THE CORPS      HERE LYETH BVRIED THE BODY

 OF RICHARD HILL, WOOLEN DRAPER,       OF FRAVNCIS SMITH THE ELDER

 WHOSE VIRTVES LIVE, WHOSE                     MERCER, BORN AND BRED

 FAME DOOTH FLORISH STILL. - N.D.          IN THIS TOWNE. - 1625

 

It was a grand thing to count yourself a workman even at the fringes of the staple that dressed England in her glory. E. Lipsom writes, “Nothing is more remarkable than the prestige enjoyed by the woolen industry in remoter times.” (Lipson, 2) England was built on the backs of sheep. The English Parliament gathers about an emblematic woolpack the size of a tennis court. Woolpacks were also displayed in the guild arms of the Watermen, Woolpackers, Dyers, and others working the wool trade.  It was a proud tribute that a man should share his tomb with a woolpack.

 

The Woolpack Testimony

 

But is it a woolpack that is pictured in Dugdale’s engraving? I asked for expert opinions. I sent this note out to several people, with the attached picture of the Dugdale/Antiquities engraving half a page high. Here’s the question I asked:

 

Pictured here is an engraving of a tomb monument of ca: 1600, no longer in existence.   The man pictured was a prosperous civic leader and a considerable dealer in the wool trade.  My opinion is that he is pictured holding a woolpack.  Would this be a proper effigy for such a man, to be resting his hands on an emblematic token of his trade?  Are there other such monumental effigies, or could I be wrong about this?  Thanks for your opinion, sincerely, Richard Kennedy.

 

Here are the answers I received. Everyone granted that that the item in question appeared to be a woolpack.  No one answered differently, and thanks again to all.

 

There are a great many brasses of wool merchants resting their feet on woolpacks. Although I have not been able to find any precise parallels for this example I think it entirely plausible that the man is indeed holding a woolpack as an emblem of his trade.  The use of emblems to denote professions was quite common in the medieval period. I am less knowledgeable about post-Reformation monuments, but I do not see why the same should not apply.  -- Sally Badham.  Monumental Brass Society.  Suffolk St. Mary, U.K.

 

 

 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


It would be reasonable to expect that the man is holding a woolpack, given his background.  -- Susanne Batchelor.  National Wool Museum Geelong, Victoria, Australia.

 

It certainly could be an emblematic woolpack.  They tied small stones into the corners with a string, thereby creating “ears” which were easier to get a grip on to move the packs about.  I do not know what else the assemblage could be. -- Richard Martin.  Cotswold Woolen Weavers.  Filkins, Nr. Lechlade, Gloucestershire.

 

Yes, it might very well be a woolpack. -- Prof. Dr. H.W. van Os. Honorary professor, Dept. of Art History, Univ. of Groningen.  University professor, University of Amsterdam.

 

Considering the importance of the wool trade to England why should a merchant not use this symbol in his memorial? -- David Pritchard.  President, The International Association of  Amateur Heralds.

 

It would seem entirely appropriate for the man to be depicted with the woolsack as he was prominent in the wool industry.  I have seen many such monuments where objects associated with the deceased are included, and the man/woman is often resting his/her hands on the objects.

-- Malcolm Bull.  Editor, Halifax Courier Local History.

 

I suspect you are right about the woolpack. -- Andy Nicholson.  Nottinghamshire History & Archaeology website.

 

The object under the man’s hands certainly looks like a woolpack.  In heraldry, which was spreading amongst the middle classes at that time, it would be quite usual to have some element of the arms representing a feature of the armiger’s estate and if he was a wealthy wool merchant one or more woolpacks or indeed a sheep might well be incorporated.  By analogy, I do not think it unreasonable that an engraved memorial such as this should also incorporate such a symbol. -- Melvyn Jeremiah.  Secretary, The Heraldry Society.

 

I would say that it certainly looks like a woolpack, and I believe that it would be considered a fitting symbol of the man’s trade. -- Paul J. Grant.  Transcriber: John Guillim, A Display of Heraldrie, 1610.

 

Just what its history may be or the propriety of the pose I do not know, although wool was a significant commodity to which considerable status was no doubt attached in the era you refer to.  But if there is evidence he was a wool merchant the probability of it being a woolsack upon his knees seems high. -- Roger Buchanan.  Chief Executive, New Zealand Wool Board..

 

Yes – I would agree that the object is a woolpack – not unusual in terms of long-standing trade for a yeoman farmer or the equivalent of a wool wholesaler. -- Dave Read.  Monumental Brasses.

 

In answer to your query the object he is holding certainly looks like a woolpack. -- Philippa Sims.  Hon. Secretary, Norfolk Heraldry Society.

 

Chief Features

 

There are those who say that Dugdale’s sketches were rude, careless, and inaccurate. They give as their best example the Carew monument, also in Holy Trinity.  Dugdale pictures the Earl and his Lady lying side by side, sepulchered in a grand setting, the Earl on the outside, his Lady on the inside.  The monument as we see it today has the Lady on the outside, the Earl on the inside.

 

All of the old monuments were subject to the meddling generations, either to repair or beautify them, and so with the Carew monument. It was decided at some dusty time that the reclining figures should be lifted and turned the opposite direction, so that now the Lady is on the outside, not on the inside as Dugdale pictured the arrangement. There was no fault with the original engraving.

 

Others have investigated the Shakspeare monument, and counted up Dugdale’s mistakes  in other of the Antiquities engravings. They note in other monuments that a gauntlet is missing, a helmet is facing the wrong way, some pinnacles are too pointy, an arch is too wide, bas-relief cannons and powder kegs are reversed, and that Dugdale’s engraver once pictured a horse with the wrong forefoot raised.  Of such detection, one is obliged to remark with Kent, “This is nothing, fool.”  On the other hand, Dr. Thomas  writes in his preface to the second edition of the Antiquities that although Dugdale’s “Care and Diligence is not to be doubted of, but (rather) of the Negligence of those he employed.” (Dugdale, I-ix) Thomas is here speaking of those workers employed by Dugdale who copied from township records and supplied imperfect information, the faulty transcription of several epitaphs and coats of arms, omissions and careless reading of registers.

 

Dr. Thomas comments on some of Dugdale’s workers who deciphered the town registers and accounts, amongst them some laggards “who took them down as they pleased themselves, and in many Places shortened them, to spare their own pains…” He is here speaking of the arms of Dame Elmore Conway, and notes the fault that “six Coats are engraven instead of twenty four….” (Dugdale, I-ix) Such was the finical care of Dr.Thomas when editing the second edition of the Antiquities. But Thomas neither alters nor challenges the work of Dugdale and his engravers regarding any monumental sculpture pictured in the first edition, with the exception of poor Lady Burdet.

 

The hundreds of statuary figures as pictured by Dugdale in his great folio have wanted no correction nor suffered any objection since first published in 1656.  It is only the Shakspeare figure whom is singled out by the critics, who say the monument was poorly seen by Dugdale, and poorly sketched.  But the emphatic truth is this, or let it be proved otherwise:  Dugdale was never wrong regarding the chief feature of the hundreds of monuments he sketched and entered into the Antiquities of Warwickshire. 

 

Contingent Mischief

 

Dugdale wrote a dedication to the Antiquities” -- “TO MY HONORED FRIENDS THE GENTRY OF WARWICKSHIRE”.  He compliments his fellow men of the shire upon the devotion they show to the departed worthies of Warwickshire.  “…Nor is it a little Honour you deserve for that pious, though due respect, shewed to your dead Ancestors, by representing to the World a View of their Tombes, and in some sort preserving those Monuments from that Fate, which Time, if not contingent Mischief, might expose them to…”  (Dugdale, I, ded.)

 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Sir William Dugdale

1605-1686

 

That’s something of an Antiquarian’s Pledge, I think, qualified with regret. John Shakspeare was certainly one of worthies of Stratford. Time will at last turn everything to dust. Meanwhile, the Mischief of man is always at work. In the case of the Shakspeare monument, the “Contingent Mischief” might be no more than the town’s recognition that William Shakspeare was of greater notice than his father, and therefore a new monument was sculpted to replace the original, an honor several generations overdue to the hometown boy, plus the tourist trade.

 

Dugdale stood in the chancel of Holy Trinity and made a sketch of what he saw.  Dugdale was never wrong regarding the chief feature of any of the hundreds of monuments he sketched. Even at dusk in the dim light of the church, even in the haze of incense and flickering candle light, all the proved eyewitnesses gave absolute evidence regarding the chief feature of the Shakspeare monument.  The reasonable conclusion is that the original monument in Holy Trinity was a sculptured tribute to John Shakspeare, his hands resting on a woolpack, and not what we see today, a man writing on a cushion.

 

A Civic Wink

 

There are three eyewitnesses who testify that the Woolpack Man was the first tenant of the Shakespeare monument:  William Dugdale, who first sketched the monument in 1634 and had the engraving entered into his Antiquities, 1656. Thomas Betterton, Stratford researcher and confidant of Nicholas Rowe, who published a new engraving of the Woolpack Man, 1709.  Dr. William Thomas, who made no change in the Dugdale picture of the Woolpack Man in the second edition of the Antiquities, 1730.  The testimony of these men, engraved and bound in their books, is the same, an agreement that spans three quarters of a century.

 

Why should these honest men vex us with a picture of the great poet holding a woolpack if it were not so? The believers that today's monument is the original must claim that our eyewitnesses were squinty and indifferent reporters.  The claim is that the proved eyewitnesses looked upon the Shakspeare monument and saw it wrong. That’s a simple answer and might serve, except that the three eyewitnesses saw it wrong in the same way, a mighty labor of coincidence, easily defied.

 

The problem of the Shakspeare monument may be solved without calling up a lofty conspiracy to explain the metamorphosis of the Woolpack Man. It can easily be said, nothing oblique, and plain as paper, that a small mischief was practiced in Stratford by the civic fathers. The effigy in the monument was replaced, hardly a criminal act. A civic wink would excuse it. The good townsfolk decided that the figure of John Shakspeare should be replaced with a man writing on a cushion, claimed to be the great poet William Shakespeare.  A small mischief only, and good for business besides.

 

The Critics

 

Leonard Digges, writing in the First Folio of 1623, making a poem to honor the great poet, dead some seven years since, mentioned “thy Stratford moniment.”  This is the first time that "William Shakespeare" is given a home town.  Every scholar who regards the original Dugdale engraving in the Antiquities of Warwickshire must give some reasonable explanation of the Woolpack Man, or else ignore him entirely.

 

E.K. Chambers, in his “William Shakespeare,” 1930, says, “Dugdale made a drawing of the monument, which still exists. This was engraved with fair fidelity for the Antiquities of Warwickshire. It differs singularly from the monument as we see it.  The architectural proportions are caricatured.  Irrelevant leopards’ heads are placed over the capitals…”  (Chambers,  II-185)  The leopard’s heads are quite relevant. The Stratford-on-Avon civic coat of arms features three leopard’s heads (Louda, 227), and John Shakspeare was a civic leader, one time Chief Bailiff (Mayor) of Stratford. When the figure was replaced and other changes were made, the leopard’s heads were left off.  William held no civic office. 

 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


But the leopard’s heads are not the chief feature, nor are the little naked figures sitting atop the monument. Chambers continues: “The allegorical figures, one with an hour-glass, the other with a spade, are poised at the extreme ends of the cornice, where no Renaissance sculptor would have placed them.  The bust itself is elongated; the elbows project angularly; there are no pen and paper…” (Chambers, II-185)  In mentioning the height of the effigy, or the balance of the little naked figures, Chambers shows himself in poverty, digging for a penny to spend. Of course the “angular” arms-akimbo attitude is awkward if one is working with pen and paper, but it is natural and correct if the figure is holding a woolpack to his torso. Chambers doesn’t allow us to muse on this, as he never mentions the woolpack and never pictures the original monument.  Chambers continues: “the face is narrow and melancholy, more like that of a tailor than of a humorist; the moustache droops, instead of following a straight line with an uptwist at each end….”  (Chambers, II-185)

 

M.H. Spielmann makes a revealing remark in his Studies in the First Folio, 1924, as follows, speaking of the Woolman's age, his moustache, etc. “The portrait is no portrait at all: it shows us a sickly, decrepit old gentleman, with a falling moustache, much more than fifty-two years old.  Had Shakspeare really been such in his last illness would the London sculptor have so rendered him? Do sculptors, in their monuments, represent the great departed in their dying state, pressing pillows to their stomachs?”  (Spielmann, see http)  Of course if the effigy is of John Shakspeare, he was an old gentleman indeed, and might have been decrepit.  He was seventy when he died. The “pillow” was a woolpack, any Englishman would have twigged to that.  Hal to Falstaff, “How now, Woolsack?”

The Woolpack Pub Sign - Laurie Lee's local in Slad             Woolpack

 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Two public houses featuring woolpacks, and a runner at the Tetbury Woolsack Races.

 

A.L. Rowse, writing in his William Shakespeare, 1963, considers the eminence of John Shakspeare, and speaks of his “prominence in the public life of the little town.” (Rowse, 30)  During the busy years of John Shakspeare’s civic career, Rowse reports him to be the “town’s most active alderman,” and notes that “No-one was so prominent in the town’s affairs for many years.” Except for the lost figure of the Woolpack Man sculpted for the Shakspeare monument, there is no notice of John Shakspeare in Holy Trinity, no plaque, no stone, no tomb, no remembrance of this significant civic father. Although Rowse speaks highly of John Shakspeare, he never mentions Dugdale’s Antiquities of Warwickshire, never mentions or pictures the Woolpack Man. Again to Chambers, who makes this small brief, disgracing the engravers of the day in order to explain away the Woolpack Man. “Two explanations have been given for the discrepancies.  One, and the only reasonable one, is that such was the way of conscienceless 17th–century engravers, and that, learned as Dugdale was on tenures, genealogy and heraldry, there are other monumental illustrations in his book which completely misrepresent the originals.” (Chambers II-185)

 

This is wrong. There is no example brought forth of Dugdale’s mistaken view regarding the chief feature of any monument pictured in the Antiquities.  Chambers’ comment on the “conscienceless” workmanship of Dugdale’s engravers is necessary of course if the detractors of Dugdale are to have any argument at all.  Spielmann calls Dugdale’s workmen “hack engravers.” (Spielmann, see http)  E.K. Chambers concludes his pages on the monument by dismissing the Dugdale Woolpack Man as a gross mistake and not worthy of reasonable discourse, saying that “It seems to me incredible that the monument should ever have resembled Dugdale’s engraving.”  He finds the whole question to be “absurd.”  Yet he admits, “It would be simpler to accept the alternative suggestion of Sir George Greenwood that another bust was substituted for the original one.  But the whole theory seems to me to be a mare’s nest.”  (Chambers, II-185)  A “mare’s nest,” so says Websters Third, is “a hoax or fraud or some other nonexistent or illusory thing…” My understanding is that Chambers offers us his opinion that the Woolpack Man, as pictured by Dugdale and the other eyewitnesses, was a hoaxed-up collusion between several men that lasted through several generations. There’s nothing at the outer-reaches of evidence to suggest such a thing. And so Chambers leaves us with a hoax impossible to fathom, an illusion impossible to contemplate, a printing shop full of incompetent artisans, and with that conclusion he’s done with the investigation.

 

S. Schoenbaum in his William Shakespeare.  A Documentary Life, 1975, wraps his case the same as Chambers, but at least gives us the Antiquities engraving to look at, but he has no faith in it.  He says, “The best and simplest explanation is that the illustration, like others in the Antiquities, misrepresents the object, in keeping with the liberty of seventeenth-century engraving.”  (Schoenbaum, 313) Chambers and Schoenbaum are happy to agree that the Antiquities engraving gives proof that the craftsmen employed by Dugdale went about their handiwork with their usual sluggish interest in the project, like fry cooks. The critics of the Woolpack Man lay the blame on the “hack engravers” of the day, supposing such an exacting skill to be a ham and eggs employment, put up a sign, leave the door open and see who walks in.

 

All employers must suffer the motley chance of ignorant, slack, and heedless workers, but none such had a hand in the monumental engravings in the Antiquities of Warwickshire.  When the folio sheets were pulled in the printing shop and held to the light, a half-page was given to the Shakespeare monument picturing the Woolpack Man. The engraver is generally thought to be Wenceslas Hollar (1607 – 1677), sometimes Royal Scenographer to Charles II. No doubt Hollar was at hand with a glass. Of course Dugdale oversaw everything, and the fidelity of hundreds of other engravings in the Antiquities answer correctly to the chief feature of the monuments as we see them today.

 

A ‘Neat’ Monument

 

The Shakspeare monument was well known because of the mention in the first folio of 1623. Hundreds of pilgrims must have seen it, and truly believed that it was raised to the great poet. Dugdale said as much himself, then led us to look on the Woolpack Man. There was a Lt. Hammond who visited Holy Trinity in 1634.  He noted in his diary that the Shakspeare monument was “neat,” which gives us no image to contemplate.  James Boswell saw the monument in 1769 at the time of the “Shakespeare Jubilee,” and reported that it was “not very excellent,” which tells us nothing of what he saw. (Boswell, 451-54) Except for the engravings of the Woolpack Man as given us by Dugdale, et al., the mind’s eye is closed on the subject. 

 

So far as we know, not a voice protested the Woolpack Man engravings, published for three-quarters of a century. We might suppose that silence gives consent in this case. There was no wince from any subscriber, friend, relative, or townsfolk, nor did any poet, actor, theater folk, or passerby utter the slightest protest regarding the monument whether they saw it in person, or saw only the Dugdale, Rowe, or Thomas printings. And why should anyone protest, after all?  A passerby who stayed a moment to look on the monument might have considered it thus: “Hah, there he is, the Sweet Swan of Avon!  The soul of the age! I’ll move closer. Hello? The great poet holding a woolpack? Curious, that. Hmm, well, he was a proper tradesman for several years after he left the stage.  Poetry is only poetry, but business is business.”

 

The viewers might have thought something like that, and so excused the Woolpack Man out of mind. The monument as first conceived and erected, featured a man with his hands resting on an emblematic woolpack, a proper tribute to a renown civic father and newly made gentleman, John Shakspeare, “a considerable dealer in wool.”

 

General Notes

 

John Shakspeare, during his middle years, was involved in dubious money-lending practices, and charged with illegal dealing in wool. He fell into debt and hard times. Although he had climbed to the highest civic office, that of High Bailiff, by 1592 he was removed from all civic office and disgraced as a recusant. After his son William returned to Stratford with his wealth, his father’s fortunes improved. In 1596 the Shakspeare family achieved a coat-of-arms, and John Shakspeare was reinstated on the Stratford Town Council, his former derelictions evidently absolved, and he was now raised up to enjoy the privileges of the gentry. When John died in 1601, his reputation restored, this significant civic father was well-deserving of a monument.

 

John Shakspeare is said to have been a glover. Peter J. Bowden tells us that “The glovers of the central and east Midlands, and those of Northampton in particular, were great wool dealers.”  John is also known as a butcher, and again to Bowden: “Butchers as well as farmers had (sheep) pelts for sale, and customers were found among the glovers and fellmongers who lived in most towns.”  (Bowden, 13, 82)

 

This essay of the Shakspeare monument is bracketed by the years 1634 – 1730, from the time that Dugdale first sketched the monument, up to the time of the last certified eyewitness who approved the Woolpack Man. After 1730, investigators take their own different ways, seeking either to establish a date when the Woolpack Man was replaced, or to declaim our eyewitnesses as poor observers and declare to the world that the Woolpack Man never existed.

 

The inscription on the Shakspeare monument reads the same today as when Dugdale recorded the words, with some difference in the spelling. (Dugdale, II-688) We suppose, therefore, that the epitaph was in place in 1634, the year that Dugdale sketched the Woolpack Man. However that strange epitaph might be deciphered, it gives the date of William Shakspeare’s death, 1616. Consider that Dugdale would have needed a ladder and a torch to read the inscription, the letters no larger than finger joints. A hand-span above the inscription sat the figure of the Woolpack Man, John Shakspeare.  Dugdale copied out the inscription correctly, and so we must suppose that he sketched the Woolpack Man correctly. Obviously, then, trusting Dugdale as a close-up eyewitness, (amongst the others), the inscription was cut before the figure of the Woolpack Man was replaced.

 

In 1725 the English Antiquarian artist George Vertue engraved the Shakspeare monument for Alexander Pope's edition of Shakespeare's plays. This is the first time we are shown the figure of Shakspeare writing on a cushion. But the figure is wearing the head of the well-known Chandos portrait of Shakspeare, as all close observers agree, the nicely trimmed-up head of a much younger man, nothing like the head that Dugdale pictured, nor yet very much like the head as we see it today. Vertue (not an eyewitness in 1725) ignores the published eyewitness testimony of the Woolpack Man in Holy Trinity, and instead gives us an imagined version of the monument, a sort of speculation perhaps, a suggestion of how the monument might be improved if were to honor a great poet, and not merely a gentleman of local renown. Vertue also differs from the proved eyewitnesses in setting down the inscription beneath the figure, entering new text both of words and phrasing. Vertue’s picture in Pope’s edition is an invention, being unlike the eyewitness images of the Woolpack Man, and also unlike the monument as we see it today.

 

The Holy Trinity effigy of Shakspeare now in place must at last be judged by well-seeing scholars to be an affront to history, and a long endured insult to the artisans of that day. Dugdale and the other eyewitnesses got it right, and those who say otherwise are vested with an opinion…

 

“Out of fashion, like a rusty mail in monumental mockery.” (Tr. and Cr. iii 3 153)

 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Boston, Lincolnshire, England

 

Works Cited

 

Boswell, James. The London Magazine, Sept. 1769.

Bowden, Peter J. The Wool Trade in Tudor and Stuart England. Ldn: Macmillan,1962

Chambers, E.K. William Shakespere.  Oxford: OUP, 1930.

Crossley, Fred H. English Church Craftsmanship. London: Botsford, 1941.

Deelman, Christian.  The Great Shakespeare Jubilee.  New York: Viking, 1964.

Dugdale, William.  The Antiquities of Warwickshire. Second edition, 2 vols  London:

   1730. (facsimile: Didsbury, Manchester, England: E.J. Morten, n.d.)

England, Martha Winburn.  Garrick’s Jubilee.  Columbus: Ohio State Univ. Press, 1964.

Grant, Francis J.  The Manual of Heraldry.  Edinburgh: John Grant,1948.

Greenwood, G.G. The Shakespeare Problem Restated (1908). Reprint, Westport, Ct.,

   Greenwood, 1970.

Halliday, F.E.  The Life of Shakespeare.  London: Penguin,1961.

Lee, Sidney.  A Life of William Shakespeare. 14th ed. N.Y.: Macmillan, 1931.

Lipson, E. The History of the Woolen and Worsted Industries. London, Black, 1921

Louda, Jiri. European Civic Coats of Arms. London: Paul Hamlyn, 1966.

Price, Diana. “Reconsidering Shakespeare’s Monument.”  The Review of English Studies

  May, 1977.

Rowe, Nicholas. Shakespeares Plays, 1709, 1714. 6 vols.inc. “Some account of the Life

 &c.of Mr. William Shakespear.”

Rowse, A.L. William Shakespeare. N.Y.: Harper & Row,1963.

Schoenbaum, S.  William Shakespeare. A Compact Documentary Life.  New York,

   OUP, 1977.

Stopes, C.C.  Shakespeare's Environment. London: Bell, 1914.

Spielmann, M.H.  "Shakespeare's Portraiture," in his Studies in the First Folio. Oxford

   University Press, 1924.

 

Full size images of the Shakspeare monument through its several changes may be seen

at Clark J. Holloway’s pages:  http://www.hollowaypages.com/Shakespearemonument.htm.

Mr.Holloway makes a fastidious argument that the Woolpack Man never existed.

 

The civic arms can be found at: “Civic Heraldry of England and Wales”.

http://www.civicheraldry.co.uk/.

 

 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


The Worshipful Company

Of Woolmen, 1522

”Wool is our hope”

 

Copyright 2005 Richard Kennedy