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The Final Concord: Confirming Shakespeare’s title to New Place

This 1602 legal document confirmed Shakespeare’s title to the second-largest house in Stratford-upon-Avon, known as New Place.

Elizabethan handwritten text on creased vellum. Document is cut into two mirrored halves each with long and short wavy-cut sides. Marks on the cut edges of the long sides of both pages match up to reunite the document.
Final concord between William Shakespeare and Hercules Underhill, Gent. [manuscript], recto; 1602 Michaelmas. Creator: England and Wales. Court of Common Pleas.
Creased vellum documents with writing visible from the reverse side. Upper portion has two vertical lines of Elizabethan handwriting in the center of the page. Lower document has two lines of vertical Elizabethan handwriting located at the straight edge of the page.

Known as the “Final Concord” of 1602, this is one of two documents held at the Folger that seem likely to have passed through Shakespeare’s own hands. The Final Concord confirms Shakespeare’s title to the second-largest house in Stratford-upon-Avon, known as New Place. A seemingly routine legal record, the document actually marked the conclusion to some horrific events.

In purchasing New Place, a brick-and-timber house with 10 fireplaces and extensive gardens, Shakespeare celebrated his improved social standing, resulting in part from his professional success in London. Just two months after he purchased the property from William Underhill in 1597, Underhill was poisoned by his oldest son and heir, Fulke. Fulke was then hanged in 1599, leaving behind a younger brother, Hercules. Once Hercules came of age, Shakespeare prudently protected his title to New Place by paying Hercules to reconfirm the purchase, resulting in this document.

According to the custom of the time, the document consisted of three identical copies on a single piece of vellum, which were then cut apart on wavy lines and distributed to the parties involved. These two pieces, belonging to Underhill and Shakespeare, were brought together by a collector in the early 1700s; the third portion, written at right angles to the two, was the court’s own copy and remains at the British Public Record Office.

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