Shakespeare’s Coat of Arms

One of many versions of Shakespeare’s Coat of Arms

As early as 1576 soon after John Shakspere’s “wool-brogging” business failed he applied for a coat of arms but was subsequently rejected as the manuscript illustrates with the words, “Non, sans droict”. Ten years later in August 1596 the young son of the actor William Shakspere was buried in Stratford-upon-Avon and within 2 months the Stratford actor William Shakspere was finally granted a coat of arms by William Dethwick, Principal Garter, College of Arms with the odd motto; “Non Sanz Droict”, meaning “Not Without Right”. What the motto is intended to mean is somewhat ambiguous and some have thought it simply a tongue in cheek and inappropriate for a man of great literary talent and fame. Indeed, Dethwick’s grant of Shakspere’s arms was condemned as inappropriate by the York Herald, Ralph Brooke in 1602 and his nefarious activities of granting arms without good reason or for money and according to procedure led eventually to his final dismissal. On closer investigation it appears that the coat of arms had originally been refused on the grounds that the application could not be linked to that of the Ardens of Park Hall because Shakspere’s mother, Mary Arden (1540-1608) was thought to have been connected to the Arden family by John Shakspere. Although her father was actually called Robert Arden, a successful farmer from Wilmcote, a small village several miles north of Stratford. The Ardens of Park Hall derived their genealogy from an ancient Norman family and still denied any genealogical connection to the Shakspere family through Robert Arden. Mary had a similar surname but she was in no way a descendant of the Park Hall family. Just after Robert died in 1558 Mary Arden, with a sizeable dowry of lands and money, agreed to marry John Shakspere, she being pregnant with his child. Much of her dowry was later sold or mortgaged to pay off John’s debts or ease the life of his close relatives. This led to several legal disputes and Mary last appeared at the Stratford magistrates as late as 1596 in an attempt to secure justice for her own well-being. She may have ended her days either at Henley Street or at New Place with her daughter Joan Hart when John Shakspere finally died in 1601 but there is no actual proof of this.

Apparently, in late 1597 William Shakspere and three others were bound over to keep the peace following an altercation in London.

1596 – Michaelmas – Court record. William Wayte “swore before the Judge of Queen’s Bench that he stood in danger of death, or bodily hurt,” from “William Shakspere” and three others. “The magistrate then commanded the sheriff of the appropriate county to produce the accused … who had to post bond to keep the peace, on pain of forfeiting the security”.

Another later version of Shakespeare’s Coat of Arms

The following year he purchased New Place from William Underhill for the price of £60. In 1599 Shakspere is listed as a shareholder in the Globe Theatre and later the owner of a new residence on adjoining land, listed as the property of Thomas Brend, the father of Nicholas Brend who was the lease-holder of the land the Globe Theatre was built on. In 1599 William Shakspere again sought exemplification of his arms in London, which meant he was now officially a gentleman, a member of the landed gentry and had a right to bear arms. The application was at first refused with the statement “No, Without Right” meaning that the College of Arms bureau had considered the connection to the Arden genealogy and pronounced he had no right to that claim. Examining in detail one can clearly see that firstly the phrase “Non, Sans Droict” is crossed out, then it is re-written above and finally in capital letters it is written as if it is the title for his family motto and the College of Arms manuscript.

Detail illustrating the words “Non, Sans Droict” being crossed out and then being re-written

Clearly this was subsequently altered (leaving out the comma after Non) by an unknown clerk to suggest that it had been accepted as his family motto “Non Sanz Droict” (Not Without Right). Nothing as far as any sane person is concerned could be so absurd and ridiculous as the meaning of the motto for such an illustrious writer and dramatist or the manner of its actual acquisition. The coat of arms attributed to Shakespeare features an ochre or gold shield with black bend containing the lance or, as far as the wording of the application describes, a spear associated with Pallas Athena. This is topped with a helmet with closed visor, signifying a gentleman or squire. Above the helmet is presumed to be a falcon (the poet’s raptor), which is described as rampant, à gauche (signifying magnanimity) again holding a jousting lance, not in actual fact a “spear”, like those employed in tournament tilting. However, the bird in question looks more like a cormorant or “shag” in some versions acting as a rebus for his name “Shagspere”.

The original manuscript for the Shakespeare coat of arms application

The motto, Non Sanz Droict runs along a ribbon underneath. The application from the College of Arms reads as follows:

Gould. On a Bend Sables. A Speare of the first steeled argent. And for his Creast or cognisance a falcon. His wings displayed Argent. Standing on a wrethe of his coullors. Supporting a Speare Gould. Steeled as aforesaid sett upon a helmet with mantelles & tasselles as hath been accustomed and doth more playnely appear depicted on this margent.

The same year Ben Jonson, in his inimitable style-being unable to resist a satirical poke at the Stratford Shakspere, devised a foolish character named Sogliardo who is ridiculed in the play “Every Man Out of His Humour” as follows:

“So enamoured of the name of gentleman, that he will have it though he buys it” and his coat of arms bears the inscription: “Let the word be-Not Without Mustard”.

Sir Francis Bacon’s coat of arms showing the white boar’s head as a crest

It would appear that Jonson, a connoisseur of fine foods and so fond of taking irony a step too far, had left a cryptic clue in this phrase that the majority of people would have been unable to unravel. Mustard was renowned for bestowing courage, quickening the sinews and is often used on pork, gammon steaks as a relish. Furthermore, the colour mustard (or ochre as it was technically known) is synonymous with cunning and deceit and sure enough the colours on Shakespeare’s arms is ochre and black. Some Baconians have seized upon this phrase to suggest that Sir Francis Bacon was the author of the plays (ie: pork and bacon?), conversely the Oxfordians have seen this remark to identify Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford whose totem animal was the boar, hunted by his Viking and Norman ancestors. Therefore Jonson was saying; not without the wit and generosity of the Earl of Oxford was his coat of arms granted.

The Earl of Oxford’s coat of arms with the crest of a Blue Boar

From my screenplay “Not Without Mustard” with extracts from Ben Jonson’s own play satirising William Shakspere’s acquisition of a coat of arms; “Every Man in His Humour”:

Will Shakspere:
By my wits! no sir, I scorn to live by my wits, myself. I have better
means, I tell thee, than to take such base courses, as to live by my wits.
What, dost thou think I live by my wits? [Addressing Ben]
Is he one of your acquaintance?
I love him the better for that.

Ben Jonson:
God’s precious, come away, man, what do you mean? And if you knew him as
I do, you’d shun him as you would do the plague.
O, he’s a black fellow indeed, take heed of him.

Will Shakspere:
Is he a scholar, or a soldier?

Ben Jonson: [Aside to Will].
Both, both; a lean mongrel, he looks as if he were chop-fallen, with
barking at other men’s good fortunes: Beware how you offend him; he carries
oil and fire in his pen, it will scald where it drops: his spirit is like
powder, quick, violent; he’ll blow a man up with a jest: I fear him worse
than a rotten wall does the cannon; shake an hour after at the report.
Away, come not near him.

[Ben Jonson ushers Will Shakspere out of the door to an annex].

Edward de Vere:
Ay, when I cannot shun you, we will meet.
‘Tis strange! of all the creatures I have seen,
I envy not this Buffone, for indeed
Neither his fortunes nor his parts deserve it:
But I do hate him, as I hate the devil,
Or that brass-visaged monster Barbarism.
Oh, ’tis an open-throated, black-mouth’d cur,
That bites at all, but eats on those that feed him.
A slave, that to your face will, serpent-like,
Creep on the ground, as he would eat the dust,
And to your back will turn the tail, and sting
More deadly than the scorpion: stay, who’s this?
Now, for my soul, another minion
Of the old lady Chance’s! I’ll observe him.

[Lookin through a keyhole]

Will Shakspere:
Nay, I will have him hear me, I am resolute for that. By this parchment,
gentlemen, I have been so toiled among the harrots yonder, you will not
believe! they do speak in the strangest language, and give a man the
hardest terms for his money, that ever you knew.
In faith, I thank them; I can write myself gentleman now; here’s my
patent, it cost me thirty pound, by this breath.
Nay, it has as much variety of colours in it, as you have seen a coat
have; how like you the crest, sir?

Ben Jonson:
The motto sir what is that? Let’s see, “Non Sanz Droict”, say that means
“Not Without Right”. T’were better known “Not Without Mustard”.

Will Shakspere:
Marry, sir, why the crest is your boar without a head, rampant. A boar without
a head, that’s very rare!

Ben Jonson:
Ay, and rampant too! troth, I commend the herald’s wit, he has
deciphered him well: a swine without a head, without brain, wit, anything
indeed, ramping to gentility. “Venneris, Veritas Detruncare”.
A pig’s bottom makes the best bacon. What is that fat, black bird on the helmet?
Why it looks more like a fat shag, a greedy and garrulous sea bird if ever I saw one.
You can blazon the rest, signior, can you not?

Will Shakspere:
Oh, ay, I have it in writing here of purpose; it cost me two shilling
For the tricking.

Ben Jonson:
Let the motto be, ‘Not Without Mustard’: your crest is very rare, sir.
Nay, look you, sir, now you are a gentleman, you must carry a more
exalted presence, change your mood and habit to a more austere form; be
exceeding proud, stand upon your gentility, and scorn every man; speak
nothing humbly, never discourse under a nobleman, though you never saw him
but riding to the star-chamber, it’s all one. Love no man: trust no man:
speak ill of no man to his face; nor well of any man behind his back.
Salute fairly on the front, and wish them hanged upon the turn. Spread
yourself upon his bosom publicly, whose heart you would eat in private.
These be principles, think on them; I’ll come to you again presently.

[Ben Jonson exits]

[Fade and Close]

Original manuscript from the College of Arms depicting Shakespeare’s coat of arms

In 1592 after a literary banquet at the Mermaid Tavern where Robert Greene’s “Groatsworth of Wit” was being reviewed by Henry Chettle and Thomas Nash, the pseudonymous, London playwright from Stratford-on-Avon, William Shakespeare is accused of being “an upstart crow”. In 1597 Shakspere is paid money for his complicity and acquires New Place, his new family home in Stratford. In 1599 The Globe Theatre opens and Shakspere acquires approval of coat of arms (“Not Without Mustard!”) then listed as a shareholder.

An artist’s impression of the infamous Mermaid Tavern

Ben Jonson: [Addressing the gathered assembly].
Gentles all, we are as always gathered together like a flock in the fold, wherein we shall relate our divers pilgrimages on the stage, -our difficulties and successes.

Henry Chettle:
Why, baa-baa, Ben! Hast thou any wool?
[Assembled crowd laugh out loud].

Ben Jonson:
Aye, Henry hast thou a part as a goat or a sheep?

Henry Chettle:
The shepherd seeks the sheep, and not the sheep the
shepherd; but I seek my master, and my master seeks
not me: therefore I am no sheep.

Ben Jonson:
The sheep for fodder follows the shepherd; the
shepherd for food follows not the sheep: thou for
wages followest thy master; thy master for wages
follows not thee: therefore thou art a sheep.

Henry Chettle:
This proves me still a sheep.

Ben Jonson:
True; and thy master a shepherd.
A silly answer and fitting well a sheep.

Henry Chettle:
Such another proof will make me cry ‘baa!.’
Nay Ben, I shall seek a part as Little Bo Peep!
[More uproarious laughter].

Little Bo-Peepe

[A chorus erupts led by Henry Chettle]
—Baa, baa black sheep have you any wool?
Yes sir yes sir, three bags full.
One for the master and one for the dame,
And one for the little boy who lives down the lane.

Ben Jonson:
Well, Henry I am well pleased to hear that and wish you every success.
Aside from our pleasant comedies let those who play your clowns speak no more than is set down for them. And yet, if this scene were played upon a stage now,
I should condemn it as an improbable fiction.
Is there among ye any sensible report?

Robert Greene: [Standing up and addressing Ben].
I am as poor as Job, my lord, but not as patient. T’is not so well that I am poor, though many of the rich are damned, there’s but a shirt and a half in all my company; and the half-shirt is two napkins tacked together and thrown over the shoulders like a herald’s coat without sleeves!

[Picking up two napkins from the table and throwing them over his shoulder].

Ben Jonson: [Facing Greene].
If thou art rich, thou’rt poor;
For, like an ass whose back with ingots bows,
Thou bearest thy heavy riches but a journey,
And then death unloads thee…

Robert Greene:
My lord, fortune shows herself more kind than is her custom:
It is still her use to let the wretched man outlive his wealth,
To view with hollow eye and wrinkled brow an age of poverty.

Ben Jonson:
Oh my, how apt the poor are to be proud!
[Laughter from some members of the assembly]

Robert Greene:
Pride, pride, –pride?
-Why my pride fell with my fortunes!
He that is proud eats up himself:
Pride is his own glass,
His own trumpet, his own chronicle.

Ben Jonson:
Thy head is as full of quarrels as an egg is full of meat.
There was never yet philosopher
Who could endure the toothache patiently.

Robert Greene: [Pointing towards three playwrights].
Base-minded men all three of you, if by my misery you be not warned:
For unto none of you, like me sought those burrs to cleave:
Those “Puppets”, I mean that spoke out of our own mouths,
Those Antics, now sceptic in our own colours..

Ben Jonson:
I will praise any man that will praise me!
Mincing poetry, t’is like the forced gait of
A shuffling nag…

Robert Greene:
-Is it not strange, that I to whom they all have been beholden,
Shall in that case, as I am now, being all at once of them forsaken?
Nay, trust them not: for there is an “Upstart Crow”,
–Beautified with our feathers, that with his
Tiger’s heart wrapped in a player’s hide, supposes
He is as well able to bombast a blank verse as the best of you:
And being an absolute Johannes Fac totum,
Is in his own conceit the only Shake-scene in the country.

Ben Jonson:
Poor Poet Ape, that would be thought our chief,
Whose works are even the frippery of wit,
From his brokerage has become so bold a thief
As we the robbed, leave our rage and pity on it.
Even now will he nail his colours to the mast-
But not without mustard…

Robert Greene:
Others…if they come to write or publish anything in print,
It is either distilled out of ballads or borrowed of church poets
Which, for their calling and gravity,
Being loathe to have any profane pamphlets pass under their hand,
Get some other Batillus to set his name to their verses.
Thus is the ass made proud by this underhand broker.
And he that cannot write true English
Without the aid of clerks of parish churches—
Will need make himself the broker of interludes.

Will Kempe: [Standing up].
Why, few of the university men pen plays well.
They smell too much of that writer Ovid,
And that writer Metamorphosis, and
Talk too much of Proserpina and Jupiter.
—Why! [Pointing to Will Shakspere aside]
Here’s our fellow Shakspere puts them all down;
Aye, and Ben Jonson too.
Oh, that Ben Jonson’s a pestilent fellow;
He brought up Horace giving the poets a pill,
But our fellow Shakspere hath given him a purge
That made him be-wray his credit.

Ben Jonson:
Fool! As if half-eyes would not know a fleece
From locks of wool, or shreds from the whole piece.
He that is robbed, not wanting what is stolen,
Let him not know it and he’s not robbed at all.

John Marston:
Care he for Talus or the flail of lead?
As long as the crafty Cuttle lies for sure
In the black cloud of his thick vomiture;
Would he complain of wronged faith or some false fame,
When he may shift it onto another’s name?

Will Shakspere:
Gentlemen, I am a snapper up of unconsidered trifles,
The truest poetry, they say is the most feigning.
I feign would write, so if this be true and upon me
Proved, I never writ and no man ever loved.

John Fletcher:
Never durst poet touch pen and write
Until his ink were tempered with love’s sighs.

Kit Marlowe: [Pointing to Will Shakspere]
This man, proud man, dressed in a little brief authority…
Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven,
As make the angels weep…

Richard Burbage:
Fear not gentlemen, we will not stand to prate;
Talkers are not good doers; be assured
We come to use our hands and not our tongues.
Thanks, I must you advise, that you are thieves
Professed, when you work not in holier ways;
For there is boundless theft in limited professions.

Ben Jonson:
Aye, give thy thoughts no tongue,
Nor any un-proportioned thought his act.
Is not the truth, the truth?

Henry Chettle:
There is nothing either good or bad,
But thinking makes it so;
The seeming truth which cunning times
Verily put on to entrap the wisest fellow.
But that truth should be silent, I had almost forgot.

Will Kempe:
We are happy in that we are not over-happy;
On fortune’s cap we are not the very button.

Ben Jonson:
Give me some wine. Fill full.[passing his glass]
Let us drink to the general joy of all the table.

Will Kempe:
A cup of wine that’s brisk and fine,
And drink unto the leman mine!

Ben Jonson:
Now I do remember a saying thus, “the fool doth think he is wise,
Yet the wise man knows himself to be a fool!

[Servants fill glasses, and the assembly raise glasses and drink, occasionally breaking into song, cursing and resorting to comic antics.]

The links to my publications, “Shakespeare’s Qaballah” and my anthology of poetry, “Parthenogenesis” are as follows:


“We all love Shakespeare, whoever he was…”

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The links to my publications 
“Shakespeare’s Qaballah”,
a Companion to Shakespeare Studies and my anthology of poetry,