All rights are reserved by Mr. Hess, but permission is given to copy and share these articles with
others as long as proper attributions are given.
Selections from Jane Cox's Professional Article giving her Expert Opinion about the Six Shakspere
Signatures (Hess' Webpage Article # 3, a companion-piece to Robert Detobel's article in Hess' Webpage Article # 4).
In 1985, "Her Majesty's Stationery Office" in London published an edition of its journal of the British
Public Record Office entitled Shakespeare in the Public Records, with the subheading: "Text and selection of documents
by David Thomas; Section on the will and signatures by Jane Cox."
Section IV "Shakespeare's Will and Signatures," was on pages 24 to 34. No biographical notes were given
about Ms. Cox or Mr. Thomas, and to my knowledge they are not known to be other than orthodox scholars or well-trained, respected
experts about handwriting analysis of materials from the 16th and 17th centuries. Instead, they were employees of the
British government. Ms. Cox's article appeared to have no other motive than to correct the unscholarly excesses perpetrated
by scholars over the centuries with regard to Mr. Shakspere's six "authenticated" signatures. If a case against the fraud
of Mr. Shakspere's literacy were to ever be tried at law, against her will Ms. Cox would likely be the Prosecution's star
expert witness. You be the judge from extracted portions here:
"IV. Shakespeare's Will and Signatures"
[extracted from pgs. 24-34 of Jane Cox's 1985 article; note
the six signatures referred to are in my Figure 10 in Vol. I]
As the most personal and
the richest in biographical detail of the surviving Shakespeare documents, his will has been the subject of intense critical
scrutiny. Its innocent legal phrases have triggered the wildest flights of scholarly fancy; every pen stroke, every blot,
every fold in the paper is fraught with significance. A detailed study of the provisions of the will made by B. Roland Lewis
earlier this century led him to proclaim that the 'essential spirit of Shakespeare is found in his will... It more than any
one thing mirrors his personality. His business astuteness and the hopes and ambitions of his busy life here find virile and
definite expression [cited letter from Richard Quiney asking for L30].
Probably nearer the truth is the opinion of Joseph Green, the Stratford antiquarian who was the first to look among the records
of the probate court for the will: 'the Legacies and Bequests therin are undoubtedly as he intended; but the manner of introducing
them appears to me so... absolutely void of the least particle of that Spirit which Animated Our great Poet' [cited
B. Roland Lewis, The Shakespeare Documents, 1941, II, 471]. Shakespeare had no telling final words for his audience;
his last wishes were dictated to a local lawyer, Francis Collins, who had drawn up the tithe purchase document and whatever
intensity of feeling there may have been in the words he spoke, however, beautifully expressed, there is no hint of it in
the written version. It is a standard legal document and, with one or two exceptions, the provisions are exactly those one
would expect from a fairly wealthy small-town gentleman. There is nothing remarkable about the language used in the will --
no other sixteenth or seventeenth century poet is known to have broken into blank verse on his deathbed -- but its austerity
is a disappointment. There is no reference to a 'good and faithful servant', a 'sweet grandchild', an 'obedient daughter'
or a 'loving wife'. The impersonal drafting may be ascribed entirely to Francis Collins or it may be partly a reflection of
Shakespeare's own legal knowledge; he was almost certainly familiar with the work of Henry Swinburne, the author of
the leading testamentary manual of the day [cited Wm. Rushton, Shakespeare's
Testamentary Language, 1869; but if "he was almost certainly familiar," did he really read and write?].
"According to a tradition, repeated in John Ward's diary
fifty years after the event, Shakespeare died of a fever which he caught following a 'merry party' with Ben Jonson and some
other friends. His burial entry in the Stratford parish register is dated 25 April 1616. It is assumed that at the time, he
was living with his wife in New Place. His only son was dead and his two daughters were married; Susanna, the elder, had made
a good match with the physician John Hall, and had given Shakespeare a granddaughter, Elizabeth; Judith's recent marriage
to a local vintner, Thomas Quiney, had started badly. Judith was thirty-one and perhaps short of suitors; Thomas was four
years younger. The wedding was on 10 February 1616 and the couple failed to follow the proper procedure and obtain a special
licence to marry in Lent. The were excommunicated. On 26 March, a month before Shakespeare's death, his new son-in-law was
fined five shillings by the Stratford ecclesiastical court for fornicating with one Margaret Wheeler, who had died in labour
with Quiney's child, a fortnight earlier. The shock of the scandal may have hastened Shakespeare's end, but it is more likely
that he was already ill as the first draft of his will appears to have been made in January; in the seventeenth century men
rarely disposed of their property until they were 'pinched by the messenger of death.'
"The will was taken for probate to the Prerogative
Court of Canterbury in London, the most senior of a network of church courts handling testamentary business. There John Hall,
his son-in-law and one of the executors, took the oath promising to duly administer the estate, on behalf of himself and his
wife. This is shown in the probate clause written in Latin on the bottom of the will. The original will was filed and a copy
was 'engrossed' on parchment and bound up together with other wills proved that year. The register still survives [cited
PROB 11/127 s.59] as does the entry of probate made in the 'Probate Act Book' [cited PROB 8/16]. There would have been various other documents associated with the grant of probate, possibly affidavits
and certainly an inventory of Shakespeare's personal estate, that is to say a list of his household goods, including cash,
leases, plate, crops, animals and probably his books and manuscripts. Unfortunately most of the inventories
for this date were lost in the Great Fire of 1666. F.J. Furnivall ["1825-1910, was a noted scholar and
editor of literary manuscripts"] searched through vast quantities of then unsorted Prerogative Court records, leaving
in the boxes notes: 'Searched for the inventory of Mr. Shakespeare'.
[Ms. Cox went on to discuss the details of the will, its similarity to John
Combe's will also drawn up by Francis Collins, that Mr. Shakspere was said to be healthy in body and mentally fit (so much
for his "palsy"), that nothing in the will was non-standard so as to give evidence about Mr. Shakspere's "religious proclivities,"
and the names of witnesses (among whom were beneficiaries, not barred from being witnesses until 1837)].
"...Shakespeare named as overseers Collins and Thomas
Russell, a member of the local gentry and a literary figure. The appointment of overseers to a will had been common practice
since the Middle Ages and was done in the hope that any disputes might be sorted out without recourse to law [apparently the two were literate, therefore].
"The contents of the will may be summarized quite simply:
Shakespeare left the bulk of his estate to his elder daughter, Susanna, and L300 to his younger daughter, Judith. There were
a number of small bequests and the devise to Susanna was tied up in such a way as to ensure that the property was kept together
and descended in the male line, if there was one [which there was not].
The properties he is known to have held at his death are: New Place, the Birthplace in Henley Street, the tithes he bought
in 1605, the land in Old Stratford he bought from the Combes, the cottage near New Place and the house in Blackfriars, in
the occupation of a John Robinson. He is thought to have disposed of his theatre shares sometime before he died. The
cash bequests in his will amount to about L350. The only personal possessions he makes specific reference to are a large silver
gilt bowl (part of his plate), his sword, his clothes and the famous second best bed [his only provision
to his long-suffering wife]. Shakespeare's family had certainly improved their financial
position since his paternal grandfather, Richard, died fifty-five years earlier leaving a personal estate valued at L38 7s.
6d. [cited 1561 letters of Administration in the Worcester County Record Office].
[Ms. Cox pressed on with examination of the preamble of the will, how it appeared
to try to protect Judith with a marriage portion of L100, but showed "deep distrust of Thomas Quiney," her husband. She quibbled
over whether Judith's surrender of rights to a "copyhold cottage" was necessary, since she likely held no rights (could this
mean that even with his lawyer's advice, Mr. Shakspere was not as up on the law as Shakespeare has been shown to have been?).
She covered his leaving small sums to his sister and her family, which was said to be unusual in the sense that "most seventeenth
century testators made fairly generous gifts to their brothers and sister, nephews and nieces" (but look at what he left his
wife, so why should they have gotten more?). He left his plate to his young granddaughter, who oddly was referred to
later in the will as his niece (might this mean that his lawyers had more control over details of the will than did Mr. Shakspere?).
She noted that apparently he had originally intended to leave his plate to Judith but wrote her out after her unfortunate
marriage to Quiney, leaving her only a gilt bowl. Remarked that his L10 to the poor of his hometown "was extremely generous,"
though didn't elaborate in comparison to what (perhaps because it exceeded what he left his wife and younger daughter combined?)].
"There follows a series of minor legacies to friends. Thomas
Combe, the nephew of Shakespeare's old friend John, was given his sword. A gentleman would usually leave his sword to his
eldest son, but Hamnet Shakespeare was dead. Thomas Russell, the overseer, was left L5 for his pains and the lawyer, Collins,
was more generously rewarded with L13 6s. 8d. Overseers and attorneys were often paid in this way. The only hint of theatrical
connections is contained in three bequests of 26s. 8d. each to Richard Burbage, John Heminges and Henry Condell to buy mourning
rings. [BUT NOTE: Ms. Cox failed to menttion here that the rings bequest was a suspicious interlineation
in a different hand into the will; why?] ...The practice of leaving money to friends to buy mourning rings was
very common until [the 20th] century.
[Ms. Cox noted the entail on the male line through Dr. Hall and Susanna, and
a distrust of Quiney].
"Finally, the widow's miserable souvenir of her absentee
husband must be considered. What fun the nineteenth century romantics could have had if only Shakespeare's legacy to his wife
had been like that of Thomas Cullwicke of Aldersgate who died in the same year; he left her everything: 'All that I have I
give unto the and sorye that it is no more' [cited will proved 1616 PROB 11/127 s.6.].
As every school child knows, Shakespeare left his wife nothing more than his second best bed, and that appears to have been
an afterthought (the interlineation in the middle of the last page of the will [BUT NOTE: Why did Ms.
Cox mention interlineation here but neglect it above for the ring-awarded trio? Was there something about those suspicious
interlineations into the will in a different hand that orthodox scholars are afraid to address forthrightly?]). This was no 'affectionate little bequest', neither was it usual for a seventeenth century man, of
any rank, to make no overt provision for his wife in his will. Of the sample of 150 wills proved in the same year, mentioned
above, about one third of the testators appointed their wives as executrixes and residuary legatees. None left his wife anything
as paltry as a second best bed. Bedsteads and bedding were without a doubt valuable and prized items and they were
normally carefully bequeathed, best beds going to wives and eldest sons. The concept of a wife's entitlement to one third
of her husband's real estate for life and one third of his personal estate was still very much alive.... Ann Shakespeare could
have successfully contested the will, but she did not and the assumption is always made that Susanna looked after her and
she went on living in New Place until her death.
"Six 'authenticated' Shakespeare signatures survive and
three of these are on his will. There is one on the Court of Requests documents (document 11) in the Public Record Office
and the two others are on deeds connected with the purchase of the Blackfriars house, in the British Library and the Guildhall
Library respectively [these are sketched in my Figure 10 to Vol. I].... the first will signature...is
of very poor quality.
[The reader will note that up until now Ms. Cox's article has been completely
orthodox in tone, as can be seen by my various objections and notes above. But now the bombshells appear, with my emphases
italicized and marked in pink here].
is obvious at a glance that these signatures, with the exception of the last two, are not the signatures of the same man. Almost every letter is formed in a different way in each. Literate
men in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries developed personalized signatures much as people do today and it is unthinkable
that Shakespeare did not. Which of
the signatures reproduced here [in my Figure 10]
is the genuine article is anybody's guess. Some
scholars, perhaps more familiar with literature than the calligraphy of the period have failed to recognize the problem; Tannenbaum saw a 'striking similarity' between the last will signature and that
on the Guildhall deed [cited S.A. Tannenbaum, Shakespeare's Penmanship (NY, 1927), 19].
The anti-Stratfordians, on the other hand, have argued that Shakespeare did not sign the documents
himself because he was illiterate or that he did sign them, but because he was not used to writing, each time the signature
and the spelling was different [so, Ms. Cox was aware of the Shakespeare authorship question,
though not really sympathetic with us challengers; still she has just now accurately stated what I strongly believe was truly
the case]. An article by Sir Hilary Jenkinson, published in 1922, gives a clue to what the solution
might be. It was his opinion that clerks taking down the evidence of witnesses in law suits
often 'signed' it with the deponent's name themselves, using a different hand from that which they had used for the body of
the text to give it 'an air of verisimilitude' [cited "Elizabethan Handwriting," The
Library, 4th series, vol. III, no. 1, June 1922, 31]. So
much for the signature on the deposition given by Shakespeare to the court of Requests. If this was the practice
in the equity courts, why should it not also have been the practice of attorneys' clerks when drawing up conveyancing documents? Possibly Shakespeare was not even in London to sign the mortgage deed and the deed of purchase for the
"The will signatures have
been regarded as sacrosanct, in the main, but in the light of Sir Hilary Jenkinson's observations and practice in the prerogative
Court of Canterbury, the authenticity of even these signatures must be questioned. There is a possibility
that the so called original will is a facsimile copy made either by the court or by Collins' clerk. The court's ancient practice had been to return the original will to the executor and to keep a copy; among the bundles of wills proved in 1538, for instance, there are hardly any originals. By the time Shakespeare
died the court was more likely to keep the original but there are instances of facsimile copies being made for the court's
files.... It is not very likely that Shakespeare's will comes into this category as the contemporary
copy now kept by the Birthplace Trust is probably the executor's copy which was
retained by them when the grant of probate was made and the original was kept by the court. Another
possibility is that the clerk who wrote the will 'forged' Shakespeare's signatures. Until the Statute of Frauds of 1667 there was no necessity for a will
to bear the testator's signature at all.... virtually any form was acceptable
so long as it seemed to be a true representation of the dying man's wishes.... Among
fifty-five wills proved in the Prerogative Court in the same month as Shakespeare's, there are numerous examples of 'forgeries'
of witnesses' signatures [cited
PROB 10/332]; the attorney's clerk simply wrote the names on the
document, sometimes using a contrived hand to make them look like signatures, sometimes not.
It is not unlikely that Collins' clerk wrote the names of Shaw, Robinson and Sadler on Shakespeare's will; the
hands of the three witnesses are suspiciously similar. There is no positive evidence
that Shakespeare did not sign his will; the shaky pen strokes certainly look like those made by a sick man. But if one must
select one of the four signed documents as being the sole example of our greatest playwright's hand, the will [of
1616] has no better claim than the Requests deposition [of 1612], the
mortgage deed [of 1613] or the Guildhall conveyance [also 1613]. As we have seen, the legal sanctity of the signature was not firmly established;
the medieval tradition was that of an illiterate landowning class with scribes to do their writing and signing. Wills were proved by the executor's oath, nothing more, unless objections were raised by some interested party,
in which case witnesses would be examined. It was not until later in the seventeenth century that handwriting experts began
to be used by the court."
To be fair, during the April 19, 2003 Panels Debate at the Smithsonian, with Chiljan-Hess-Sobran faced
by Matus-May-Nelson, Prof. Nelson claimed that he had done an exhaustive study to discredit the opinion of Sir Hilary Jenkinson
cited by Ms. Cox, that often clerks or lawyers would sign for their clients. But, Prof. Nelson declined to say when
and where he would publish his evidence (so, let's ask in advance, "What controls did Prof. Nelson use to insure he'd made
a fair selection for his study, and what criteria was used for authenticating client's hands vs. signatures?"). Or,
as I said to the audience, tongue in cheek, "You can believe the opinions of dilettante Professors, or you can believe the
opinions of an expert paid by the British government for her vast experience and expertise on the subject." But, more
importantly, Prof. Nelson neglected to address Ms. Cox's even more damning point, thereby implicitly conceding the legitimacy
of Ms. Cox's claim that only 2 of the 6 signatures have any likelihood of having been written by the same person, and all
4 of the other signatures were most likely NOT written by the same person. Ergo, we can thank Prof. Nelson for implicitly
validating the critical finding that there is no dependable evidence that Mr. Shakspere could write,
not even his own signature!
The above selections were from Hess' Vol. IIIA, Appendix O.
See also Robert Detobel's article both in Appen. O and posted on Hess' webpage as Article # 4.