Two anniversaries share one April day: 23rd April, and as one of them belongs to William Shakespeare, the quotation from Two Gentlemen of Verona seems apt.
“Shakespeare’s favourite month would seem to be April … No other month is mentioned half as often in his works as showery, windy, sometimes unforgettably exquisite April.” (Germaine Greer The New Yorker, April 11, 2013)
23rd April is long ascribed to be the day on which William Shakespeare was born although there is no specific record of it. He was baptised on 26 April 1564 and it is generally assumed that, as was the custom at the time, the infant was born about three days earlier. He definitely died on this date 52 years later so it is convenient to use the date to apply to both events.
St George, patron saint of England as well as of Germany, Portugal, Greece, Bulgaria, Georgia, Palestine, Ethiopa, Serbia, Slovenia, Lithuania, Portugal, Malta and Montenegro, has his saint’s day on 23rd April.
The two come together in Shakespeare’s Henry V when the king, at the Battle of Agincourt, rallies his troops with the stirring “Cry God for Harry, England and St George.”
It was a good bit of propaganda for George who, despite being the English patron saint, never actually set foot in the place.
The original patron saint had been Edmund (“Cry God for Harry, England and – er – St Edmund” – doesn’t really cut it, does it?) and he had been patron saint since the 9th century. His shrine, housed in an abbey built by King Canute, was at Bury St Edmunds.
The shrine depicted above was destroyed in 1539. During the Dissolution of the Monasteries, his remains were spirited away to France to keep them safe. It obviously worked because in 1911 they came home again and now they are in Arundel castle.
‘Such was the influence of St Edmund that on St Edmund’s Day in 1214 rebel English barons held a secret meeting here before going to confront King John with the Charter of Liberties, the forerunner to Magna Carta which he signed a year later. This event is reflected in the motto of Bury St Edmunds: ‘Shrine of a King, Cradle of the Law’.’ [In Latin Sacrarium Regis Cunabula legis]
In 1199, Edmund was unceremoniously dumped by Richard I who had visited the site of St George’s tomb in Lod (modern day Israel) and then the following day won a battle.
Image of tomb By OneArmedMan – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3078385
Whether he genuinely believed that his triumph had been brought about by the saint or he was quick to see the opportunities of renaming the patron saint we will never know. Richard I, nicknamed the Lionheart, has himself had an historical makeover. He comes down through history as a great King of England but he spent so little time in this country during his reign, largely limited to visits to wring out more money by taxation to fund his crusading, that it is perhaps very appropriate he selected a patron saint who had spent even less time here.
The final coup de grace for St Edmund came in 1348 when Edward III founded the Knights of the Garter and selected St George as its patron. From then on, the flag of St Edmund was superseded by the flag of St George when troops went into battle.
St George lived in the 3rd century. For part of his life, he was in Lydda (now in Israel) but it is uncertain whether he was born here or in Cappadocia (modern day Turkey). Wherever it was, it was to wealthy Greek parents. He was a soldier as his father had been – probably another reason for Richard to adopt him – but despite being in the Roman army, he was a Christian and reputedly refused to give up his faith even when asked by Emperor Diocletian. Probably not a good career move to oppose your boss and George was executed, after being subjected to torture, on 23rd April 303 AD.
Our William, on the other hand, is undisputedly English, born and died in Stratford upon Avon. Conveniently neat, you have to give him that. Made his career in London but scholars argue about where he was during his ‘missing years’. Was he a schoolmaster, a travelling player, a poacher – or all three and more? And where was he – in this country or not?
A pub in Kenilworth is convinced that the premises was patronised ‘by none other than William Shakespeare’ (http://www.virginsandcastle.co.uk/) though it offers no evidence to support this view. The Famous Virgins and Castle (the word famous is part of the title) is in the High Street in the older part of Kenilworth.
Image courtesy of Google Earth Street View
Inn sign courtesy of http://www.virginsandcastle.co.uk/
The premises is old enough to have been known to Shakespeare. It actually appears to date from the year before his birth and there is a story that Shakespeare may have visited Kenilworth when Elizabeth I visited in 1575.
Image of Kenilworth Castle and the newly restored garden courtesy of http://www.english-heritage.org.uk
David Schajer in his blog http://shakespearesolved.blogspot.co.uk posits the idea that perhaps John Shakespeare, a glove maker, might have seized the opportunity of making a pair of gloves for Elizabeth and presenting them to her on her visit. It would be a good publicity ploy particularly since we know that, very shortly after this, the family fortunes dipped quite dramatically. It is quite feasible it was a last ditch attempt to stave off financial collapse.
But as Schajer neatly puts it:
‘There is no proof that Shakespeare was there. There is no proof that he was not there. It is impossible to know, based on the evidence that we possess today. Perhaps we may eventually discover documents or letters that put Shakespeare at Kenilworth, or not, and until that time we cannot know one way or the other’
If Shakespeare were there in 1575, he would only be 11 so presumably not frequenting the pub known then as The Two Virgins. But it does seem possible that James Burbage, of whose acting company Shakespeare was later a part, was at Kenilworth and perhaps this lends some credence to the pub’s claim.
And the connection to RMSG? (You were wondering where that fitted in weren’t you?) Well the parents of Marjorie Slingsby, former pupil, ran the pub in the late nineteenth century. Thomas Chapman Slinsgby, b 1865, was a grocer’s manager before he transferred to the drinks trade. He died in 1901 and his probate places him at Virgin’s Inn, Kenilworh. His estate was valued at probate as £16 15s which, although in modern terms is worth £722, it is hardly a living wage. Marjorie’s mother became the licensee in 1901 but by the next census is given as a boarding house keeper, not at the pub but in Waverley St, Kenilworth. Both Marjorie and her sister were working in clerical jobs.
Marjorie came to the School after her father’s death and left it in 1909. Given as a shorthand typist in 1911, we can probably assume she learned those skills at school. In 1912, Marjorie visited the School again. It seems feasible that this was for the first Old Girls’ Day since the foundation of the Old Girls’ Association (OMGA). There had been Ex-Pupils’ Days before then but the Association started in 1912. It may have been this reason or it may have been because she was planning the leave the country and wanted to see her alma mater for probably the last time. In 1913, Marjorie, her mother, her sister Kathleen and younger brother George travelled to Wellington, New Zealand on the Tainui. By 1916, she gives her address as Whataupoko, Gisburn, New Zealand.
On 12 Dec 1923, she married Roy Fellows Baird the date being given in Who’s Who in New Zealand and the Western Pacific, 1925. Roy was a Solicitor and District Land Registrar who made an extensive study of Polynesia. His research notes are now held by Canterbury Museum. By 1932, the Bairds were living at 2a Selwyn Rd, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand where Marjorie remained a member of OMGA. Sadly just six years later, she died, aged only 45. It is possible that this is the property today listed as 2 Selwyn Rd, Hospital Hill, Napier which was sold in October 2015 although there is no certainty about this.
Rather like the uncertainty about whether Shakespeare was, or wasn’t in Kenilworth; was or wasn’t a frequenter of The Two Virgins; whether St George was, or wasn’t born in Israel or Turkey, the was or wasn’t of New Zealand real estate is up to you.
But April 23rd is definitely celebrated as St George’s Day and as Shakespeare’s birthday.