John Harvard and the Bard

Flyby Blog

John Harvard is no Kevin Bacon, but that doesn't mean that our University's benefactor isn't good for a game of "Six Degrees of Separation." The relationship between John Harvard and William Shakespeare is closer than many would have thought, according to an article recently pubished in the Financial Times.

To discover the extent of Harvard's connections, look no further than a narrow, three-story home located at 26 High Street in Stratford-upon-Avon. Now known as Harvard House, the residence once belonged to Thomas and Alice Rogers, grandparents of John Harvard and neighbors of a certain William Shakespeare.

John Harvard's grandfather, Thomas Rogers, built what is now known as Harvard House in 1596. One year later, Stratford native William Shakespeare bought New Place, the home where he would eventually retire, just down the road from Harvard House. It is thought that Rogers and Shakespeare—both prominent men of Stratford—were likely to have known one another. Indeed, the Shakespeare and Rogers families both worshipped at the Church of the Holy Trinity in Stratford, and records show that Shakespeare's twins and Rogers' daughter, Katherine, were christened there within three months of each other. Katherine went on to marry Robert Harvard in that very same church in 1605.

The connections, however, don't stop there. It is believed that John Harvard's father Robert, a butcher in the south London district of Southwark (home of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre), may have crossed paths with the famous playwright as well. In Southwark, Shakespeare attended St. Saviour's Cathedral, the church where John Harvard was eventually baptized and where Robert Harvard served as an alderman with one of Shakespeare's close colleagues, Philip Henslowe (i.e., Geoffrey Rush in "Shakespeare in Love"). It is even thought that Shakespeare and his brother, Edmund, may have been responsible for introducing Robert Harvard to Katherine Rogers.

While the social mingling of John Harvard's family and William Shakespeare remains a matter of conjecture, Harvard House still stands on High Street in Stratford-upon-Avon and serves as a tourist attraction and home of the Museum of British Pewter.

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