Shakespeare’s mother was born Mary Arden in 1537, the youngest of eight daughters of Robert Arden. Mary’s family had a distinguished history and could trace itself back to the Norman Conquest. Thomas Arden had fought in the 13th Century civil war; Robert Arden, the War of the Roses and John Arden was one of Henry VII’s courtiers.
The Arden family lived in home called Glebe Farm, a two-story Wilmecote farmstead, situated about eight miles from Stratford-upon-Avon. Mary inherited the father’s farm – along with some land in Snitterfield – when Robert Arden died in December 1556. The farm was maintained as a working farm in good condition over the centuries, and was bought by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in 1930.
Richard Shakespeare, the father of John Shakespeare and grandfather of Shakespeare, was a tenant farmer on land owned by Mary’s father in Snitterfield. As the daughter of Richard’s landlord it’s possible that she knew John Shakespeare since childhood. Mary Arden married John Shakespeare in 1557, when she was 20 years old and John was 26. She may have been thought to have married ‘beneath’ herself – a daughter of the landed class marrying the son of a tenant farmer – but we do not know anything about her family’s attitude to her marriage.
As soon as she was married, Mary moved to the house owned by her husband John in Henley Street in Stratford-upon-Avon. Mary went on to have eight children with John between 1558 and 1580 – including William Shakespeare – though several of their children died in infancy.
Shakespeare’s mother Mary Arden died in 1608.