The History of Leather Part 8 – Shakespeare

Posted on 17/07/14

The lesser-known Del Boy” Shakespeare, leather glover extraordinaire (1531-1601)

There are some surprising similarities between Geoffrey Chaucer and William Shakespeare. Despite being born over 200 years apart from one another, both are considered to be one of, if not the best in their respective fields, Chaucer’s being poetry and Shakespeare’s being writing plays. Also like Chaucer’s father, Shakespeare’s father, leather glover extraordinaire, is worthy of mention in his own right.

Born in 1531, John Shakespeare, son of Richard Shakespeare started his working life as a farmer alongside his father, before moving to Statford at the age of 20 to trade wool, malt and corn – selling his father’s produce for the most part. If that wasn’t enough, Shakespeare became a glover and whittawer – though admittedly the leather he prepared was derived from the skins of dogs, deer, horses and sheep rather than cattle.

John made and sold a number of soft leather goods, including belts, purses and aprons. Leather gloves were clearly his speciality, the work that he was most proud of. Given his illiteracy, John took to using glover’s compasses as his signature –better that than spelling his name differently each time as William did.

As a man that was clearly unaware of the saying “Jack of all trades, master of none”, John then started in the business of money lending, a field that was uniformly referred to as “dubious” in records and accounts from the time.

John’s multitude of leathercrafting talents must have paid off; he was able to buy a second house in Stratford a year after moving there in the first place. He then ended up elbowing his way into the aristocracy, marrying Mary Arden a year after her father’s death (as convention dictated). All of this, shall we say thriftiness, conjures an image of a medieval Del Boy –though admittedly Shakespeare was somewhat more successful in his various crafts than Del Boy ever was!

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