The Biography of William Shakespeare (1564-1616) from
The Dictionary of National Biography Volume 17
published in 1909 by written by Mr Sidney Lee
SHAKESPEARE, WILLIAM (1564-1616), dramatist and poet, came of a family whose surname was borne through the middle ages by residents in very many parts of England at Penrith in Cumberland, at Kirkland and Doncaster in Yorkshire, as well as in nearly all the midland counties. The surname had originally a martial significance, implying capacity in the wielding of the spear (Camden, Remains, ed. 1605, p. Ill; Restitution, 1605). Its first recorded holder is John Shakespeare, who in 1279 was living at ‘Freyndon,’ perhaps Frittenden, Kent (Cor. 7 Edw. I, Kane.; cf. Notes and Queries, 1st ser. xL 122). The great mediaeval guild of St. Anne at Knowle, whose members included the leading inhabitants of Warwickshire, was joined by many Shakespeares in the fifteenth century (cf. Reg. ed Bickley, 1894). In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the surname is found far more frequently in Warwickshire than elsewhere. The archives of no less than twenty-four towns and villages there contain notices of Shakespeare families in the sixteenth century, and as many as thirty-four Warwickshire towns or villages were inhabited by Shakespeare families in the seventeenth century. Among them all William a common christian name.
At Rowington, twelve miles to the north of Stratford, and in the same hundred of Barliehway, one of the most prolific Shakespeare families of Warwickshire raided in the sixteenth century, and no less than three Richard Shakespeares of Rowington, whose extant wills were proved respectively in 1660,1591, and 1614, were fathers of sons called William. At least one other William Shakespeare was during the period a resident in Rowington. As a consequence, the poet has been mote than once credited with achievements which rightly belong to one or other of his numerous contemporaries who were identically named.