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In 1616 William Shakespeare bequeathed to Anne Hathaway, his wife since 1582, his “second best bed” together with its furniture, the drapes and coverings.  It seems that this was not a slight since the second best bed would have been their matrimonial bed, the best bed being reserved for guests and usually left to the male heir. 

My aunt gave me photocopy today of a will of one of our ancestors, Agnes Wheyman.  The will is dated 1574, about forty years earlier.  A few months ago I listened to Germaine Greer’s fierce rebuttal of previous views of Shakespeare’s marriage to an illiterate older seductress who got pregnant and forced 18-year-old William into a shotgun marriage and became a shrewish companion he despised, and her circumstantial arguments that instead Ann Hathaway remained the love of his life, a love poignantly marked by the gift of that second best bed.  I’d like to read her book now, to find out more about the life of women then.

In the name of God.  Amen.  The XVI

day of February 1574.  I, Agnes

Wheyman of Denyngton within the diocese

of Norwich, wydowe, being sick and diseased

But of hale mynd thanks I give unto

Allmighty God and mak my testament

and last will in forme following.  First

I commend my soule to Almighty God

my Creator and Jesus Christ my Lord and Saviour

and my body to be buryed in the church

yarde of Denyngton.  Item I give

and bequeath unto Rose Wheymond my daughter

my bedsted with the featherbed and bolster

and all other things as it now standeth.

Item for that the said Rose

did lay out 12s [shillings] to redeem my cowderon [cauldron]

home again I give her also the

said cowderon.  Item I give to my

sone Robt. Wheymond my charger

Item I give unto Margery my daughter

my best gowne.  Item I give and

bequeath unto Edward Wheymand

my sone a round stole [stool] and

a quishen [cushion].  And all the Rest of

my goods and chatells and whatsoever

they be I give and bequeath to the

said Rose whome I do ordeyne and make

to be my sole executrice

and she to see this my last will and



In witness wherof I have sent my mark these being witnes

Alice Marshall

Robt. Bagot

Christfer Hersant