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Edward Arden

Edward was head of the Ardens, an old and prosperous Warwickshire family, one of whom, Mary, was wife to John Shakespeare and mother of William.

The Ardens were staunch Catholics; they kept a priest at their home disguised as a gardener, and were upset at the intrusion of new faces like Elizabeth's favorite Robert Dudley and his local agents, into their lives and affairs. The Ardens's history in Warwickshire made them potentially dangerous to the State as people of respect and influence among the largely, if quietly, Catholic population, and they were closely scrutinized for signs of treachery.

Edward Arden did little to protect himself by taking a violent and public dislike to Dudley, calling him an upstart and adulterer (not quite Quentin Tarantino-style dialogue but heavy stuff at the time) and refusing to honor him on a visit to Kenilworth by Dudley and the Queen.

Although there is no evidence to suggest Arden was directly involved with a plot against the crown, his friendship with more militant Catholics would lead him into trouble. A key player in the 1580 mission of Edmund Campion, Robert Persons, was a close friend of Edward Arden's and probably used his home as a base. After Campion's Jesuit mission was thwarted, government informers (probably about as reliable a source of information as any modern day snitch) claimed that Campion had stayed at Park Hall, the Arden's ancestral home 20 miles north of Stratford, though this could never be proved.

Arden was, however, named as an active supporter in an intercepted letter by the Jesuit Robert Southwell.

But it was Arden's son in law, John Somerville, who would effectively sign Arden's death warrant. Somerville, thought by many at the time to be mentally ill, was said to have loudly and publicly insulted the Queen and threatened to kill her. Somerville's association with Arden was enough to give his enemies, Dudley in particular, an excuse to reinvestigate Arden. Edward Arden was also a close friend to the Throgmorton family, and had married their daughter Mary, and as the Throgmortons were heavily suspected of another plot by the Queen's head of intelligence, Francis Walsingham, Arden's fate was sealed.

Despite Arden's arrest, the seizure of the Arden's priest, his wife and daughter's confinement in The Tower of London, and mountains of paper evidence purporting to show the link between Arden, Somerville and Throgmorton, no direct evidence of Edward's complicity in a plot could be found.

On December 16th, 1573 Edward Arden and his wife Mary were sentenced to death. Mary was reprieved and escaped being hanged and then burned, but Arden was led to the scaffold on December 20th and hanged, drawn and quartered.

Arden protested to the last that his only crime was to be a Catholic in a Protestant age. It remained a common belief in his old heartland of Warwickshire that he was framed.

William Shakespeare was a distant relation of Edward Arden in an age when even the outermost members of an extended family probably inspired more love and blood loyalty than they do today. The persecution of his kinsman by the state must have had a profound effect on him, his faith, and the way he communicated through his art for the rest of his life.

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