Even in today’s 21st century, a young boy of 17 years, considered minor by 4 years to marry as per the laws, boldly coming forward to marry a woman of 26 years who is pregnant with their first child would be frowned upon by the society, cultures, relatives and the whole world! Even the most technological advancements have not made such a big change in the society’s way of thinking! So, can you even imagine this scenario taking place in the late 1582? Decades before we all were even born? Yes! The love story of William Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway started off at such a turbulent note!
Anne Hathaway, or Agnes as her father calls her in his will before he died in 1581, grew up in a small village named Shottery. The village was located to the west side of Stratford-Upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England. Anne was an illiterate young woman who never got a chance to attend any school. She was one of the eight daughters of her father, Richard Hathaway, who was a farmer by profession. She was of marriageable age as per the societal standards and had a dowry left in her name by her father at the time of his death. The dowry system dates back to even those days! I guess the idea of giving away money and goods along with the bride was prevalent even in those days! It is time we stopped such things at least in this era! Better to be terribly late than never!
It is believed that Anne’s father and William’s father were business associates. Thus, these two might have met each other through the frequent interactions between their fathers. But, little did those fathers think that their kids would fall in love with such a glaring age difference as a huge barrier between them. But, all is fair in war and love! Anne was of marriageable age whereas William was still a young boy. Still, the young boy could charm the senses of pretty Anne and soon they fell heads over heels in love! Of course, true love never comes with age restrictions!
The Pregnancy, The Scandal!
Soon, Anne got pregnant and all hell broke loose! In an era like 1582, a young woman getting pregnant before marriage and that too with a young boy who is not even old enough to get married would obviously have created a huge scene in the houses of both Anne and William. The huge age difference between the couple was a much bigger issue than the pregnancy itself. Because, even in those days, it was not so uncommon for a woman to get pregnant prior her marriage. It is believed that the marriage was done in a hurry, maybe due to Anne’s pregnancy.
As Anne was already three months pregnant, they had to hasten the marriage before her pregnancy became evident to others. There are many who believe that the marriage was a forced one in which the reluctant William was forced to marry Anne due to her pregnancy. But, there are no real proofs that support this claim. The first step to be made to get registered as a couple was through the local church. Since, William was not yet 21 years, which is the minimum age limit for a male to get married, he had to get the permission of his father for the same. The Shakespeare family wasn’t keen to get their minor son married but had to agree nevertheless in account of Anne’s pregnancy.
Anyways, William was adamant to get married to Anne and Anne’s family too decided to take the matter forward. But, here another issue was that they need to get married as soon as possible! But, the rules of the church is that their intention to get married to each other should be announced publicly in the church three times in three consecutive Sundays or any other holy days. This system is known as Crying the Banns. This system is still followed in Christian churches till date. This is to give a chance to anyone who wish to raise an objection to the marriage. A marriage is only considered legal if the Banns is read 3 times in 3 weeks. But, in this case, they did not have the time to wait till the 3 Banns were read. So, they tried finding another way out and decided to get direct permission from the Bishop. The Bishop of Worcester issued a marriage bond and confirmed that the marriage will be lawful. The bond was presented at their local church and the church approved the marriage with just one reading of the Banns.
The Love William And Anne Shared!
Even though many people observed that the glaring age gap between Anne and William was an obstruction to a happily ever after, William Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway defied norms and lived together with their 3 kids till the last breath of William Shakespeare, the renowned playwright and poet!
Many people believed that theirs was a forced marriage as Anne was already pregnant at the time of the wedding. So, William had no other way out! But, can a forced marriage stand the test of time and last till the last breath? Isn’t that enough proof that they both loved each other truly, madly, deeply? In today age, when even the strongest love stories waver in the test of time, stress and family relations, 17-year-old William and 26-year-old Anne held strong to their love!
Still, all was not well between William and Anne. William left his wife Anne after about three or four years of their marriage to go and live in London. This is where the famous playwright in him found new pastures and grew his talents in the form of magical plays that breathed life. William never returned back to his wife for about 30 years! But, was that because he detested her or because he was too busy creating his plays is another question to be pondered on. Let us hope that they wrote long letters of love to each other through all these 30 years!
Here, the point to be noted is that Anne was not left to fetch for her and her family alone. Even when William struggled to make a living in Stratford, his family back in the village prospered. This certainly points to the fact that William used to send every penny he earned to Anne so that she could use it for the good of the family and their kids.
William Shakespeare signed his will on twenty-fifth March, 1616. In the will, he writes about his wife, Anne and says that he leaves his second-best bed and furniture to Anne. Many people argue that William said “second-best” bed as he considered Anne as only the second-most important person in his life. But, there are also others who argue that in those days, the first-best bed in the family was always reserved for guests. The second-best bed will be used by the couple. So, the second-best bed referred here could be their marriage bed. Isn’t that the best romantic will ever? Leaving behind for your wife the bed they started their life together? The bed that carries memories of their love? The rest of all the possessions of William Shakespeare went to his elder daughter Susanna. So, the doubt factor is removed in this context as the properties only went to their own daughter who could take care of her mother Anne too!
Even when many people express doubt whether William loved Anne truly, I conclude here that William indeed loved her truly! All these subtle hints of love and care only point towards a sea of passion and love in the two loving hearts. Let the love win over every other contradiction just like 17-year-old William and 26-year-old Anne defied customs to get married!
Closing this write-up with a Shakespeare quote:
Doubt thou the stars are fire;
Doubt that the sun doth move;
Doubt truth to be a lier;
But Never doubt I Love!
Let this quote put to rest all the doubts people all over the world had and has about the love William and Anne shared!