Shakespeare’s Grand-daughter, David Garrick, and A Mulberry Tree

Elizabeth Hall and Thomas Nash c.1626. 
 On display at Nash’s House, Stratford-On-Avon  © SBT   

Shakespeare’s last known living relative, his grand-daughter Elizabeth, is an elusive figure in Shakespeare scholarship and little is known about her. I found the following snippets in a little leaflet from Abington Park Museum in Northamptonshire, which is located on the site of Elizabeth’s former home.

In 1607, Shakespeare’s eldest daughter Susannah married Dr John Hall of Stratford-on-Avon. In 1608, Susannah gave birth to Elizabeth. Elizabeth eventually married Thomas Nash, but he died in 1647, and in 1649, she married for a second time. Her husband was Mr (later Sir) John Bernard of Abington. He was a widower; his first wife, also an Elizabeth, was the daughter of Sir Clement Edmonds.

Elizabeth Nash and John Bernard were married on 5th June 1649, near Stratford-on-Avon. They moved to Abington Manor in Northamptonshire after their wedding and lived there for twenty years. During their marriage, Elizabeth gave birth to eight children, all of whom tragically predeceased her. She died in February 1670, just a few weeks after her husband Sir John had sold their home to William Thursby of Middle Temple, London. Besides an entry in the burial register, there are few formal records of Elizabeth, and certainly little surviving recognition of her as the last living descendant of Shakespeare. No stone marks the spot where she was buried. However, since Abington Church was partially destroyed in 1823, it is possible that a monument or inscription related to her disappeared at this time.

Possible portrait of Elizabeth c.1660

Elizabeth’s husband followed her to the grave in 1674. In 1902, a member of the Bernard family had the following inscription added to his memorial:

Also to Elizabeth, second wife of Sir John Bernard, Knight (Shakespeare’s Grand-daughter and the Last of the Direct Descendants of the poet), who departed this life on 17th February, MDCLXIX, Aged 64 years. Mors set janua vitae.

It is impossible to know if any of Shakespeare’s manuscripts or personal papers went with Elizabeth to Abington Manor. Elizabeth’s mother Susannah was still alive when her daughter married John Bernard in 1649, and it would seem reasonable to suppose she visited her daughter in her new home at least once. However Susannah died in July 1649, just a month after the wedding. She was Shakespeare’s sole surviving executor, her husband having died c.1636, and as such she may have had some of Shakespeare’s papers in her possession. It is impossible to say whether Susannah passed on her father’s papers to Elizabeth. If she did, it is (tantalisingly!) and theoretically possible they still exist somewhere, but they are unlikely to be at Abington Manor, since William Thursby pulled down most of the old house when he rebuilt it in 1678.

Postcard of Abington Manor c.1901-10

Abington Manor also has another connection with Shakespeare. Anne Hanbury, wife of John Harvey Thursby, who owned the house in 1764, was a big Shakespeare enthusiast, and a close friend of the actor David Garrick. Garrick visited Abington Manor in 1778, and supposedly planted a cutting from the Mulberry tree in Shakespeare’s Stratford garden. It seems unlikely the cutting did indeed originate from Shakespeare’s tree, since Francis Gastrell, owner of New Place, famously cut down the Mulberry tree in 1756. The wood was supposedly sold to a Thomas Sharpe who, in a rather enterprising manner, is said to have carved Shakespeare mementos from it. (Some of these can be seen at Nash House in Stratford-on-Avon).
Garrick as Richard III (William Hogarth, 1745) 
However, a more recent owner of Abington wrote that Garrick had been occupied with organising Shakespeare celebrations in Stratford prior to retiring from the stage in 1776, and might have had access to a cutting or sapling of Shakespeare’s tree. In any event, the tree at Abington once sported a brass plate, now in Abington Park Museum, which bears the following inscription:

David Garrick, Esq. planted this Tree, at the request of Anne Thursby, as a growing Testimony of their Friendship, Feby, 1778.

Anne Thursby died on 22nd April 1778. She was apparently a woman of high spirits who was rumoured to gamble. Her epitaph reads:

Here lies the Daughter of William Hanbury of Kelmarsh in the country of Northampton and wife to John Harvey Thursby the Second. What sort of Woman she was the Last Day will determine.

      Woodcut of Mulberry Tree (1607)

Source: Abington Park Museum, Northamptonshire. Thanks to Paul Fraser Webb.

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