Shakespeare, Catholicism, and Lancashire: A Reappraisal of John Cottom, Stratford Schoolmaster


In recent years, the view that William Shakeshafte, the servant named in the will of Alexander Hoghton in 1581, and William Shakespeare of Stratford were the same person has gained support in some quarters. The schoolmaster John Cottom and his family are invariably cited as the essential link between Lancashire and Stratford, converting, in Ernst Honigmann’s words, “a possibility to a probability.” Using archival sources not previously consulted, this reassessment of Cottom undermines the key components of this theory. In doing so, it also challenges the longer, and more widely held view, that Cottom was a Catholic and that his presence in Stratford was therefore symptomatic of the religious views of Stratford itself. Rather, there is strong evidence to support the view that he was Protestant.