William Shakespeare’s Wife: Anne Hathaway

Anne Hathaway was the wife of the famous playwright William Shakespeare. She was born in 1556 and was eight years older than William. At the time of the marriage, Anne was 26 years old while William was 18. Anne was already pregnant by William before they were married, so he had no choice but to marry her. Anne came from a reputable family, and it was socially inappropriate for her to have a child outside of marriage. The eight-year gap between William and Anne could have been a little out of place during their time, and this might have been compounded by Anne’s pregnancy. However, scholars are not sure whether these things were extremely scandalous. Some point out that, although looked down upon, it was not unusual for women of that time to be pregnant before marriage. 

Anne was the eldest child of a farmer named Richard Hathaway. Richard had eight children, and they all lived together in Hewlands Farm, a large farmhouse in a village near Stratford. In 1581, Richard Hathaway died, leaving Anne with her stepmother and siblings. They all continued living in the farmhouse, which is now a famous tourist spot known as Anne Hathaway’s cottage. 

Marriage to William Shakespeare

After marrying William Shakespeare in 1582, Anne moved in with him in his parents’ house located on Henley Street in Stratford upon Avon. She gave him three children — two daughters and one son. The eldest child was named Susannah, and she was born in 1583, just six months after Anne and William’s marriage. Susana was followed in 1585 by the birth of twins named Judith and Hamnet. Susana married a local town doctor named Dr. John Hall, while Judith married a wine merchant named Thomas Quiney. Meanwhile, Hamnet died in 1596 at the age of 11. His cause of death is speculated to have been the bubonic plague.

Shortly after being married, William Shakespeare headed off to London to find a job as an actor. Anne stayed in the house with her parents-in-law. William often went back to the house on Henley Street to check on things, but Anne was never known to have visited London. Anne’s parents-in-law were fairly well-off, although their financial comfort was ebbing away. And so, Shakespeare’s initial success came at a very critical time. First, he became a successful playwright and, later, a theater operator. Eventually, he became a famous writer. Sometimes, he performed in plays for the king and members of the court. As a result of William’s success, it can be safely speculated that Anne lived a very comfortable life, very much like the life of a present-day woman who is married to a millionaire. Eventually, William bought one of the biggest houses in Stratford-upon-Avon, called New Place, and moved his family there in 1596. New Place does not exist anymore, but during its time, it was a magnificent house, boasting 10 fireplaces and around 30 rooms. Shakespeare stayed in this house when he retired and enjoyed the family life as a father and grandfather. When he died in 1616, he left Anne his second-best bed, as indicated in his will. Some scholars interpret the phrase “second-best bed” as an insult to Anne, pointing out that it indicated Shakespeare’s discontent with his wife. This is made worse by rumors that always accompanied William’s marriage to Anne. He was a famous man, and many scholars speculate that he had affairs. Some scholars even theorize that William intentionally stayed in London to avoid being with his wife. However, there was never enough information available for scholars to prove these speculations. And the controversy about the second-best bed is countered by other scholars who point out that the best bed in the house is considered to be the one reserved for guests, and so, the marital bed came to be called the second-best bed. After Shakespeare’s death, Anne stayed in New Place as a rich widow. 

The Elizabethan Housewife

William Shakespeare may have been working hard in London, but Anne Hathaway was surely working hard as well in taking care of the family. During William Shakespeare’s time, women were not allowed to have a formal education. Because of this, Anne was illiterate, and her daughters were too. But despite not being able to read or write, the maintenance of the household and the care of the family was her responsibility. She had to look for food, prepare it, and serve it to the children. There were surely markets in those days, but they were not as richly supplied as today’s markets are. Food shortages occur from time to time as a result of poor harvests, and for this reason, starvation was not unusual. She would have regularly turned milk into cheese, as these food items back then were commonly preferred over milk, which quickly spoiled in a short span of time. It is also easy to imagine that when her husband went home to visit, she would have helped in serving food for the guests and arranging their bedroom for the night. Anne also had to do the budgeting for the family, which could have been a very difficult task for a woman who could neither read nor write. She had to train her daughters to do household chores while making sure that her son, Hamnet, received an excellent education. This would have been expected of her because Hamnet’s father and grandfather were both well-educated. Most probably, Anne did not have much time for personal enjoyment despite leading a life of financial comfort. However, she may have started to enjoy life once her daughters had reached adulthood and were married off.


Anne Hathaway died in 1623 at 67 years old. She was laid to rest at Trinity Church beside her husband.