What the Butler did

A collection of writing by Brother Tony Butler

Appendix 2 Spilsbury – My Cousin Shakespeare May 25, 2010

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The Spilsbury Family

and My Cousin Shakespeare – sixty-six degrees of separation!


To thee, my cousin Shakespeare, this poor verse

I dedicate in honour of thy name.

I draw a rather long bow, or much worse,

When distant kinship I with thee proclaim.


Much have I admired thy wondrous power and sway

And worship thee “this side idolatry”

(As once thy rival Jonson dared to say),

For I, in sooth, love thy sweet harmony.


The road that lies betwixt my name and thine

Is long indeed and truly sinuate;

The links, as in a golden chain, are fine,

That golden road a maze to navigate.


But, oh, fair coz, what pleasure ’tis to me,

To find I am related so to thee.

My great grandfather Alexander Edward Butler (b.1828, d.1899) had a brother named Spilsbury (b.1836) and a son named Charles Spilsbury (b.1865, d.1876).  It never occurred to me to question the origin of the unusual name, Spilsbury.

So, it was with some surprise that I received an email in May 2009 from Joanne Sholes (of California USA) entitled “Butler and Spilsbury connections question”.  It opened up a whole world of enquiry and pointed me eventually towards a relationship – albeit a circuitous, “sinuate”, one – with William Shakespeare.

The aim of this article is to indicate as clearly as I can from the documentary evidence available the connection between my Butler family and William Shakespeare, the Stratford man who wrote those wonderful plays.

My information is gleaned from several sources.  I am primarily indebted to Joanne Sholes for setting me on this path and for providing a great deal of information that allows me to trace the Butlers back to Edward Butler who married Deborah Vicares in 1681.  It was their son Joseph who married Mary Spilsbury (1720).  And it is the Spilsbury family that provides the link with Shakespeare through his mother, Mary Arden.  One member of the Arden family, Anne (b.1750), married a Spilsbury – Benjamin (b.1746).  No date is currently available for the marriage.

This primary information has been corroborated and developed from two other sources: Stirnet.com, and the website of John Spilsbury of Wolverhampton UK, rootsweb.ancestry.com.

In my own research I did not trace my Butler ancestry back beyond Edward Butler and his wife, Elizabeth Hammond Bishop.  Thanks to Joanne Sholes I have found some ancestors of Edward Butler (b.1766) and Elizabeth Hammond Bishop (m.28.7.1794).  His father was Edward John Butler (b.1736, Kidderminster, Worcestershire, UK; d.11.7.1779) who married Mary Austin.  Edward John Butler’s father was Joseph Butler (b.4.10.1694) and his mother was Mary Spilsbury (b.23.1.1697).  Both Joseph and Mary were born in Kidderminster, Worcestershire, UK, and they were married in Kidderminster, 23.11.1720.  Joseph Butler’s parents were Edward Butler and Deborah Vicares who married in 1681.  And that is as far back as I can trace the Butlers at present.

So it is that we turn to the Spilsburys, which family will give us the link to the Ardens, which will, in turn, link us to Shakespeare.

It must be said that tracing families back to the distant past is fraught with dangers and it is easy to assume connections where none exist.  I found, for instance, the following information on RootsChat.com: “I have William of Bewdley being born in 1565 in Rock (IGI references plus another document).  William is the son of John Spilsbury (b. 1525, also Rock).  John is the son of Thomas, b. 1498.  Thomas had one other son, John, b. 1525.  From the original Thomas, there are a whole mess of Spilsburys.  I’ve a copy of the Domesday book … Paraphrased it says: ‘Between the parish of Fladbury is Worcester and Chipping Norton in Oxford lies the village of Eynsham.  The family of Richard de Spellesbury described as a landowner had occupied the land in 1086 … No idea how Richard came to ‘occupy’ that land.”

However, Joanne Sholes advised me: “The quote you included from Rootschat was that of my sister Carol aka Bamboogirl.  I am not convinced of the earlier connects being made for William.  I do feel comfortable with William and family forward.  I am not sure of his birth year … Death, yes.  I think there might be some leaps of faith being made re the earlier ancestors so I decided to work from William forward.  This tree on rootsweb by John Spilsbury takes William back to Richard then to Thomas.”

The following material, then, is derived from John Spilsbury’s site


and also from


Because I have not undertaken any research for this article personally, I am relying on the information of others.  Sometimes the details about a particular ancestor available from the several researchers do not coincide, so I have tried to give both accounts.

According to John Spilsbury’s researches, the earliest authenticated Spilsbury in the family relevant to this story is Thomas (b.1520, Rock, Worcestershire UK; d.1574, Worcestershire UK).  He married Isobel — (b.1520, Worcestershire UK).  They had five children, all born in Rock, Worcestershire UK: Thomas (b.1546), Richard (b.28.4.1550), John (b.4.1.1553), Robert (b.13.3.1553) and Edward (b.21.9.1555).

Richard (b.28.4.1550).  His wife’s name is presently unknown.  There were seven children, all born in Rock, Worcestershire UK: Joyce (b.31.8.1589), Thomas (b.8.12.1590), Margaret (23.9.1592); William (b.1.4.1594), Anne (b.20.4.1596), Richard (b.21.9.1598) and John (b.14.11.1600).

William (b.1.4.1594, d.27.11.1672, buried Ribbesford Church, North Bewdley,[1] Worcestershire UK) married Ann — (b.15.10.1600).  No date is currently available.  There were seven children, all born in Ribbesford: Mary (b.6.6 1623), Sarah (b.5.3.1625), John (b.25.5.1628), Anne (b.28.12.1630), Susanne (29.9.1633), Elizabeth (b.26.2.1636), and James (b.24.11.1639).  Sholes writes: “William Spilsbury of Bewdley (d. 1673) and wife Anne (d. 1664) are buried in the churchyard of St. Leonard’s in the hamlet of Ribbesford.  The church is located in the countryside near the River Severn one mile south of Bewdley.  The baptisms of at least seven of the recorded nine children born to William and Anne can be found in the parish records of St. Leonard’s, and William and Anne are buried there.”

It is the descendants of John and James that concern us here: John’s granddaughter Mary married Joseph Butler (23.11.1720), and James’s great grandson Benjamin married Anne Arden (no date currently available).  John and James are of some further interest because they became prominent as Dissenting Ministers.

John (b.25.5.1628, d. 10.6.1699) married Hanna Hall (b.c.1630) in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire.  They had one child, John (b.1667, Worcester).  Sholes adds some important details: “John is often referenced in association with the Particular Baptist movement.  Records for John note that he obtained his MA from Magdalen in 1652 and afterward held a fellowship there for two years.  He married Hannah Hall 5.6.1661.  Hannah’s brother, John Hall, was an associate of John Spilsbury’s and was referred to as the Bishop of Bristol.  He was vicar of Bromsgrove until being ejected in 1662 because of religious differences.  John was imprisoned in Worcester because of his dissenting views.  The three years he spent incarcerated took a toll on his health.  He continued his ministry privately to believers.  He and Hannah had one child, John, born 1667.  This branch of the Spilsbury family has long been referred to as the ‘Dissenting Ministers’ as several of John’s descendants continued to pursue the ministry.  There appears to be some debate regarding the actual date of his death.  Several early references list his death as 1669, but transcription of a copy of a funeral sermon for John Spilsbury delivered by John Eccles and dated 1699 suggest he lived several years several years past 1667.”

John (b.1667, d.31.1.1727) married, 26.10.1693, Mary Bridges (b.1672, Worcester). There were eight children, all born in Kidderminster except the last child, Francis, who was born in Bromsgrove: William (b.?), John (b.11.1.1694), Hannah (b.1.5.1696), Mary (b.23.1.1697), Hester (b.2.1.1698), Hall (b.18.11.1701), Elizabeth (b.22.4.1704), and Francis (b.1706).  Sholes adds the following information: “Like his father, John went into the ministry, becoming pastor for a congregation of Dissenters in Kidderminster.  His marriage to Mary Bridges (1672-1759) was recorded 26 Oct 1693.  A portrait of Mary Bridges Spilsbury survives in the Baxter United Reformed Church of Kidderminster, a church built on the site of the original meeting house.  After John’s death, his son-in-law, Matthew Bradshaw continued the ministry.  There is a plaque on the wall of the church noting his service from 1693 till 1727.  It was John and Mary’s daughter Mary who married Joseph Butler.”

Mary Spilsbury (b.23.1.1697) married (23.11.1720) Joseph Butler (b.8.5.1692) in Kidderminster, Worcestershire.  There seems to be some difference of opinion about the number of children.  Joanne Sholes lists five children, all born in Kidderminster: Mary (b.24.2.1728); Deborah, named after her grandmother (b.31.7.1730); Edward who was born 5.3.1734 and died aged 13 months, 4.4.1735; Edward John (b.1736) who married Mary Austin; and John (b.13.3.1738).  John Spilsbury lists seven: Hanna (b.?), Mary (b.24.2.1728), Deborah (b.31.7.1730); Edward (b.5.3.1734), Sarah (b.13.3.1743); Edward John (b.13.3.1737) who married Mary Austin, and Joseph (b.-.5.1746).

As I wrote above, Joseph Butler’s parents were Edward Butler and Deborah Vicares who married in 1681.  The descendants of Edward Butler and Deborah Vicares relevant to this account are Joseph Butler who married Mary Spilsbury (23.11.1720), their son Edward Butler who married Mary Austin (m.1761), their son Edward Butler who married Elizabeth Hammond Bishop (m.28.7.1794), their son Alexander Bishop Butler who married Charlotte Selina Mortimer of the prominent Mortimer gunsmith family in London (m.13.9.1827), their son Alexander Butler who married Eliza Helyar (m.8.4.1852), their son Edward William Butler who married Lilian McLean (m.29.12.1897), and their son Malcolm George Butler who married Honor Whittaker (m.26.9.1936), who are my parents.

So we now turn to the Dissenting Minister James Spilsbury (brother of John Spilsbury), for it is his great grandson Benjamin who married into the Arden line.

James was born 24 November 1639 in Ribbesford and died 5 February 1698 in King’s Norton, Worcestershire (the home of another of my ancestors, William Dedicoat, aka – among other names – William Jones, the convict, and William Day, the father and bushranger).  His main place of residence seems to have been Oxford, but in 1663 he was head teacher at Bewdley Grammar School and in 1878 he was chaplain at St John’s chapel, Deritend, Birmingham.  He was buried in Mosely, 5.2.1698.  Sholes adds some more information: “Fewer references to James appear but records exist for his matriculation at Magdalen College Oxford and identify him as a curate of St John’s Chapel Deritend until his death in 1699.  In research compiled by his descendants, he was referred to as James of Rock but this is not proven.  He is also referenced in a book titled Nonconformity by William Urwick as having been educated at Tewkesbury.”

James married Ann — (b.1650) and there were four children, all born in King’s Norton: James (b.3.2.1682), William (b.3.9.1687), Mary (b.30.5.1690) and Elizabeth (b.17.7.1694).

Their first son James (b.3.2.1682, d.1740) married (1) (10.6.1708) Elizabeth Bridges (b.18.8.1674) by whom he had one son, James (b.14.4.1710, Kidderminster) who, we may assume, died young; and (2) (1.7.1712) Elizabeth Lucas with whom there were six children, all born in Alcester, Warwickshire: Elizabeth (b.10.6.1713), Lucas (b.7.1.1714), James (b.9.3.1715), Thomas (b.13.9.1718), John (b.4.1.1720) and Ann (b.14.9.1723); and then, in 1736, James married (3) Mrs Flowers.

Lucas Spilsbury (b.7.1.1714, d.14.7.1764) married (26.1.1741) Dorothy Ward (b.1720, Willington, Derbyshire).  There were seven children, all born in Willington: Francis Ward (b.6.11.1742), Lucas Ward (b.9.10.1743), John (b.1744), Benjamin (b.1746), Elizabeth (b.1748), Joseph (b.1752) and Dorothy (1754).

It is Benjamin Spilsbury (b.1746, d.-.8.1818) who married into the Arden line in the person of Anne (b.19.5.1750, Yoxall, Staffordshire; d.31.12.1829).  No date is currently available for their marriage.  There were three children, all born in Willington, Derbyshire): Elizabeth Ward (b.21.2.1787), Francis Ward (b.10.5.1788) and Anne Georgiana (b.23.4.1789)From here we work through the ancestry of Anne to discover her kinship with William Shakespeare.  It is a long way back to her g.g.g.g.g.g.g.g grandfather Walter, one of whose grandsons, Robert, was the father of Mary Arden, Shakespeare’s mother.  A long trail of breadcrumbs or a serious clew will help!

But first, something about the illustrious Arden family.  Wikipedia writes:

“The Arden family is, according to an article by James Lees-Milne in the 18th edition of Burke’s Peerage/Burke’s Landed Gentry, volume 1, one of only three families in England that can trace its lineage in the male line back to Anglo-Saxon times (the other two being the Berkeley family and the Swinton family).  The Arden family takes its name from the Forest of Arden in Warwickshire.

“Alwin (Æthelwine), nephew of Leofric, Earl of Mercia, was Sheriff of Warwickshire at the time of the Norman Conquest.  He was succeeded by his son, Thorkell of Arden (variously spelt Thorkill, Turchil etc.), whose own son and principal heir, Siward de Arden, subsequently married Cecilia, granddaughter of Aldgyth, daughter of Ælfgar, Earl of Mercia, and from this union the Ardens descend (Siward was Thorkell’s son by his first wife, whose name is not recorded; his second wife, Leofrun, was another daughter of Ælfgar).  Subsequent generations of the family remained prominent in Warwickshire affairs and on many occasions held the shrievalty.  From the time of Sir Henry de Arden in the 14th century the Ardens had their primary estate at Park Hall, Castle Bromwich.  Robert Arden was executed in 1452 for supporting the uprising of Richard, Duke of York.  The same fate befell Edward Arden in 1583, who came under suspicion for being head of a family that had remained loyal to the Catholic Church, and was sentenced for allegedly plotting against Elizabeth I.  His father William was second cousin to Mary Arden, mother of William Shakespeare.  Edward’s great-grandson Robert died unmarried and without issue in 1643, bringing the Park Hall male line to an end.  The Arden family survives to this day in many branches descended from younger sons in earlier generations.”[2]

“The descent from Alwin is as follows:

  1. Alwin (d. c.1083)
  2. Thorkell of Arden (d. c.1100)
  3. Siward de Arden, m. Cecilia
  4. Henry de Arden (d. aft. 1166)
  5. William de Arden, m. Galiena
  6. William de Arden, m. Avice
  7. Sir Thomas de Arden, m. Riese
  8. Ralph de Arden (d. aft. 1290)
  9. Ralph de Arden, m. Isabel de Bromwich
  10. Sir Henry de Arden (d. c.1400), m. Ellen
  11. Sir Ralph Arden (d. 1420), m. Sybil
  12. Robert Arden (executed 12 Aug 1452), m. Elizabeth Clodshall
  13. Walter Arden (d. 5 Aug 1502), m. Eleanor Hampden
  14. Sir John Arden (d. 1526), m. Alice Bracebridge
  15. Thomas Arden (d. 1563), m. Mary Andrewes
  16. William Arden (d. 1546), m. Elizabeth Conway
  17. Edward Arden (executed 20 Dec 1583), m. Mary Throckmorton
  18. Robert Arden (d. 27 Feb 1635), m. Elizabeth Corbet
  19. Sir Henry Arden (d. 1616), m. Dorothy Feilding
  20. Robert Arden (d. 1643)”

We begin our story with Walter de Arden, the thirteenth of the Ardens listed above.

Walter de Arden (b.c.1441, Park Hall, Warwickshire, d.5.8.1502, Aston, Birmingham, West Midlands) and Eleanor Hampdon (b.c.1445, Great Hampden, Buckinghamshire) were the parents of Sir John Arden (b.c.1461, Park Hall, Warwickshire, d.27.6.1526), the eldest son, and Martin (b.1467), Thomas (b.1469), William, Joyce, Elizabeth, Margaret, Alice, Robert and Henry.  It was from Thomas (b.1469) that William Shakespeare was descended – but of that in its place.

Sir John Arden (b.c.1461, Park Hall, Warwickshire, d.27.6.1526) who married (13.2.1474) Alice Bracegridle (b.c.1462, Kingsbury, Warwickshire), had seven children: Thomas Arden (b.c.1481) and (as listed on the Stirnet site) six other children: John, Geys, Katherine, another daughter, then Margaret and Agnes.

Thomas Arden of Park Hall (b.c.1481, Saltley, [3] Warwickshire, d.5.2.1563, Saltley) married Mary Andrewe(s) (b.c.1481, Charwelton, Northampton).  Simon Arden (b.c.1500, d.1600[sic!]) was the oldest of their nine children. The other children were: Thomas (b.1504), William (b.c.1509), Edward (b.c.1513), George (b.c.1515), Joyce (b.c.1517), Elizabeth (b.c.1519), Cecily (b.c.1521), and Mary (b.c.1523).  They were all born in Saltley, Warwickshire.

Simon Arden Sheriff of Warwickshire (b.c.1500, Park Hall, Warwickshire, d.1600) married twice: Margaret — and Mrs Christine Bond – the order of the two marriages is not clear.  Ambrose Arden of Longcroft (b.1555) was the oldest son of Simon Arden and Margaret — who had several other sons: John, Ambrose of Barton, and, maybe, Richard, Simon and Walter.

Ambrose Arden of Longcroft (b.1555, Barton Under Needwood, Staffordshire, d.1624, Barton Under Needwood) married (1588) Mary Wedgewood.  There is one son: Humphrey Ambrose Arden (b.1610, Barton Under Needwood).

Humphrey Ambrose Arden (b.1610, Barton Under Needwood, d.15.7.1656, Longcroft, Yoxall) married twice: (1) Elizabeth Lascelles by whom there were two children – Henry and John; and (2) (1.12.1630 Marchington, Staffordshire) Jane Rowbotham by whom there was one son, Humphrey, and, according to Stirnet, four daughters: Mary, Elizabeth, Anne and Grace.

Humphrey Arden of Longcroft (b.2.11.1634 Barton Under Needwood, Staffordshire, d.1706 Longcroft, Yoxall [a/c to John Spilsbury] OR b.c.1631, d.31.1.1705 [a/c to Stirnet]) married [a/c to Stirnet] — Lassal of London OR [a/c to John Spilsbury, Elizabeth Lascelles].  No date is given for the marriage.  Their offspring included Henry Arden (b.7.11.1665), Catherine and Elizabeth.Henry Arden (b.7.11.1665 Longcroft, Yoxall, d.10.8.1728) married (14.1.1692 Alrewas, Staffordshire) Anne Allcock (d.6.1.1698).  John Arden (b.1.1.1693) was the oldest son and there was a daughter, Elizabeth (buried 12.6.1696, probably only 2 or 3 years of age).

John Arden (b.1.1.1693 Longcroft, Yoxall, Staffordshire), Sheriff of Staffordshire, married (1) (date currently unknown) Anna Catherena Newton (d.17.3.1727).  Henry Arden was the oldest child and there were two other children: Catherine and Anna.  John Arden later married (2) Anne Spateman.

Henry Arden (b.18.4.1723 Yoxall, Staffordshire, d.22.6.1782 Longcroft, Yoxall) married (Lichfield 18.5.1749) Alathea Cotton (Alithaea Cooper, b.31.10.1723, d.1.7.1783, a/c to John Spilsbury [Rootsweb]).  According to Stirnet their issue included John (b.-.3.1752, d.10.2.1803), Humphrey (b.6.12.1758), Anne Arden (b.19.5.1750, Yoxall, Staffordshire; d.31.12.1829 Willington, Derbeyshire) who married Benjamin Spilsbury; Henry (b.1754), Robert (1757-1759), Samuel (b.23.11.1760) and Alathea Catharina. [4]

To complete the connection with William Shakespeare, we have to return to an earlier member of the family.

It is from Sir John Arden (b.c.1461)’s brother Thomas Arden (b.1469) that William Shakespeare was descended.  From above, we remember that Sir John Arden (b.c.1461,) was the oldest son of Walter de Arden and Eleanor Hampdon and that there other children, including Thomas (b.1469).

Thomas Arden (b.1469, Wilmcote, Aston Cantlow, Warwickshire) – wife’s name unknown – had two children: Robert Arden (b.1506, Wilmcote, Aston Cantlow, Warwickshire; later of Snitterfield; d. 16.12.1556), and Grace (b.1515 [1512 a/c to Stirnet], Stratford on Avon, Warwickshire, d.3.12.1539).

Robert Arden (b.1506, Wilmcote, Aston Cantlow, Warwickshire; later of Snitterfield; d. 16.12.1556) married (1) Agnes Webb (b.1536 [?] Stratford on Avon, Warwickshire) and (2) Mary Webb (b.5.2.1511, Stratford on Avon).  There were eight children: Joyce (b.c.1534, Stratford on Avon), Agnes (b.c.1536, Stratford on Avon), Mary (b.c.1537, Wilmcote, Aston Cantlow, Warwickshire), Margaret (b.c.1538, Wilmcote, Aston Cantlow), Thomas (b.c.1540, Stratford on Avon), Joan (b.c.1542, Stratford on Avon), Alice (b.c.1544, Stratford on Avon) and Katherine (b.c.1545, Stratford on Avon).

Mary Arden (b.c.1537, Wilmcote, Aston Cantlow, d.9.9.1608, Stratford on Avon) married (June 1557) John Shakespeare (b.c.1537, Wilmcote, Stratford on Avon, Warwickshire).  And of her was born William who was called The Bard.

There were eight children born to Mary Arden and John Shakespeare: Joan (bpt.15.9.1558, d. soon afterwards), Margaret (bpt.2.12.1562, died one year later), William (b.23.4.1564, d.23.4.1616)[5], Gilbert (bpt.13.10.1566, d.3.2.1612, unmarried), Joan 1569-1646, m. William Hart; their descendants lived in Stratford until 1806.[6]), Anne (b.1571, d.1579), Richard (bpt.11.3.1574, d.4.2.1613, unmarried), Edmund (bpt.3.5.1580, d.1607, unmarried).

While it can never be proved conclusively, it is a strong possibility that William Shakespeare grew up in a strongly Catholic family.  His mother’s family was undoubtedly committed to the old faith and there is some evidence that John Shakespeare was also committed to the same faith.  As for Shakespeare’s strong personal commitment to that same faith, it is unlikely, though in my view his works are pervaded by a deep understanding of the Christian faith of one variety or another.

So while this branch of the Butler family cannot claim any direct connection with the Ardens, let alone William Shakespeare, there is a happy if somewhat circuitous connection which has some delight if not much import.

[1] Rock, Ribbesford and Bewdley are west of Kidderminster, near Stourport (Map 29, A33, Collins Road Atlas, Britain 1985)

[2] Wikipedia

[3] Park Hall was situated in Bromwich, north-west of Birmingham.

[4] According to the list generated by Stirnet.

[5] No, there are no direct descendants of William Shakespeare living today.  Shakespeare and his wife Anne Hathaway had three children: Susanna, who was born in 1583 and twins Judith and Hamnet, who were born in 1585. The boy Hamnet died in 1596 aged 11 years.  Susanna married John Hall in 1607 and had one child, Elizabeth, in 1608.  Elizabeth married twice (in 1626 to Thomas Nash and in 1649 to John Bernard), but she never had any children.  Judith married Thomas Quiney in 1616 and had three sons, one of whom died in infancy. The other two sons both died unmarried in 1639.

[6] I believe there are numerous Hart descendants alive today.