Monday, 7 April 2014

Who Else is 450 Years Young? | Other Famous Names Born in 1564

Shakespeare isn't the only one with a
big birthday this year
This month (at the time of writing), marks the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare's birth. It's an event that will be celebrated worldwide, with performances, parties and parades. 

But, William Shakespeare, isn't the only one hitting that hefty milestone this year.

There are other famous names who were brought into this world in 1564, and their birthdays aren't being quite so widely talked of.

Christopher Marlowe

In fact, poor Christopher Marlowe's 450th birthday passed without nearly as much hoopla.

Marlowe was born just two months before his more famous Elizabethan playwriting counterpart - the closeness in age, of course, one of the reasons it's been suggested that Christopher Marlowe was Shakespeare.

Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare had many
things in common, they were even born in the same year
Born in Canterbury, to John and Catherine Marlowe, Christopher attended The King's School and, later, Corpus Christi college in Cambridge.

However, there was some hesitancy in awarding him his M.A., because he planned to attend a college in Rheims (the assumption being that he planned to become a Catholic priest).

But, thanks to the intervention of the Privy Council, who wrote a letter lauding his "faithful dealing" and "good service" to the crown, his degree was given after all.

Nobody knows exactly what 'service' Marlowe carried out for Queen Elizabeth, but it was clearly of a closeted nature, and this has sparked theories that he was a secret agent.

In any event, if Marlowe ever did intend to join the priesthood, Catholicism's loss was theatre's and poetry's gain...until 1593, when he was killed (possibly in a bar fight), in Deptford at the age of just twenty-nine.

Catherine Howard

Catherine Howard, Countess of Suffolk
was a favourite of Queen Elizabeth's
No, not the wife of Henry VIII, obviously. Born Catherine Knyvet, she married Thomas Howard in 1580, and became the Countess of Suffolk. 

Catherine has a couple of claims to fame. First, her half-brother, Sir Thomas Knyvet, was one of the men who was largely responsible for foiling Guy Fawkes and his motley crew. Second, Emilia Lanier's poem, 'Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum' is dedicated to her. 

And Catherine was a firm favourite in the Queen's court. She was given a place in Elizabeth's bedchamber and dubbed 'Keeper of The Jewels' in 1599. For the sake of keeping things clean, we'll assume that title was literal rather than figurative.

She was even thought so highly of that she was to be named godmother of Queen Anne's daughter, Sophia. But, sadly, the baby died. 

However, she was not quite as loyal as it was believed. In fact, she was acting as a go-between for Spain and Robert Cecil, and demanding bribes for the task. It's also said that, after a string of affairs during her youth, she spent her later years extorting her ex-lovers. 

In the end, her treachery was discovered and she, along with her husband (the Lord Tresurer at that time), were exiled from court.

Galileo Galilei

While Shakespeare was busy writing plays,
Galileo was changing our understand of the
universe and our place within it

Born in Pisa, in February of 1564, Galileo was the son of a musician and composer. 

He would grow up to be a mathematician, astronomer, philosopher, and physicist, who played a hugely significant role in the scientific revolution and pre-Enlightenment. 

Insisting that the universe was not geocentric, he would face the Spanish Inquisition for that little piece of heresy.  

He was told, in no uncertain terms, to stop pursuing the Copernican/heliocentric theory, and for the following ten years, Galileo steered well clear of the subject. However, after the election of a new pope, he began writing on the topping once more.

Giving us the Galilean telescope, observations of the Kepler supernova, the discovery of three of Jupiter's moons, the study of sunspots, the discovery of lunar mountains and craters, and the Milky Way - to name just a few things - Galileo's contribution to the modern world cannot be overstated.

Sir Henry Neville

Did Henry Neville really write Shakespeare?
Another man who was born in the same year as Shakespeare, and has subsequently been put forward as a possible author of Shakespeare's works, Neville was raised in Berkshire and would later attend Merton College at Oxford.

Best known as a courtier and diplomat, he acted as ambassador to France. And made fruitless attempts to act as a negotiator between King James I and his parliament. 

It's only since 2005 that he's been offered up as another 'possible' in the authorship debate.

Curiously, though, he does have a definite link with Shakespeare, albeit a distant one: a relative (by marriage) of Shakespeare's mother, Mary Arden. His candidacy for authorship, however, hinges on the fact his life, and travels, parallel the plots and locations of Shakespeare's plays. 

Still seems like a tenuous link to me, but then I'm not an anti-Stratfordian.

Wang Xijie (Empress Xiaoduanxian)

Empress Wang Xijie was born in the same
year as Shakespeare

And on the other side of the world, born to a common family in Yuyoa, Wang Xijie was born in the same year as Shakespeare.

At barely thirteen years of age (which was not as outrageous in the 16th century as it seems to us now), she was married to Emperor Wanli of the Ming Dynasty, and she would remained married to him until her death in April, 1620.

She is the longest serving consort in Chinese history, and she was the only consort of Wanli's to bear the title 'empress'. 

According to the historian Ray Huang, she was little more than an accessory to Wanli - which should come as no real surprise considering the era.

However, she was ruthless as far as her servants were concerned, regularly ordering that they be beaten...sometimes to death.


This, of course, is just a very small selection of the historical figures born in the same year as Shakespeare. But, no matter how many others there are, I'm willing to bet nobody's will be celebrated with quite as much enthusiasm as the Bard's. 

If you'd like to learn more about William Shakespeare, be sure to check out What's It All About, Shakespeare? An Introduction to The Bard of Avon.  


  1. That portrait is not Shakespeare. It is a copy of one of Sir Thomas Overbury. The person you indicate as having been born in 1564 was Gulielmus Shakspere. His family never used the name Shakespeare. All their records with one exception ( Edmund Shakespeare, a player, 1607) use the short-a phonetic spelling on the first syllable, whatever the variation. Shakspere of Stratford never spelled his name Shakespeare. He never used a hyphen, as 40% of the title-pages do. We are led to the inevitable conclusion that 1616 was NOT the birth-year of the author of the Shakespeare canon, but that that body of work used the pseudonym "Shakespeare/Shake-Speare", and that all the teachings and legends about an unlettered countryman writing the most arresting and psychologically accurate depictions of humanity are a falsehood. The Shakespeare Authorship Research Centre, at your own University, is in process of establishing the truth regarding this travesty of education and political conditioning.

    1. Hello, William.

      Thanks for coming by the blog and taking the time to spew your thoughts.

      I'm aware that Shakespeare never spelled his name as we do - spelling was a very fluid thing, though, even where names were concerned, that's proof of nothing.

      As I mention in the post, I'm not convinced by any of the anti-Stratfordian arguments. Do I think Shakespeare (the allegedly unlettered countrymen), wrote all of his plays alone? No, I don't suppose for one moment he did. Elizabethan and Jacobean playwriting was a collaborative affair, and, I dare say, he had a hand or two. But this conspiracy business doesn't spark my imagination as it so clearly does others.

      What I do find interesting is the 'educational and political conditioning' you claim has been afoot. I have to ask, to what end? Who benefits from a continued pretence that someone wrote something they didn't? And why was none of this questioned until the 19th century? Nobody before that so much as hinted that Shakespeare from Stratford was a big, fat, uneducated fraud. Makes no sense.

      Thanks anyway for the comment.

      P.S. I don't know where you think MY university is, but I neither teach at nor attend a university...and my alma mater didn't have a Shakespeare authorship research centre. Perhaps you're confusing me with someone else, or perhaps the comment is a cut 'n' paste job that you've posted in more than one place...I dunno.