Canadian Shakespeare News

Three Key Documents Related to the Genealogical Research on the Sanders Portrait of Shakespeare

CASP is pleased to publish three key documents related to the genealogical research that has taken many years of work both in Canada and in the UK: 1) Thomas Hales Sanders’ last will and testament, which set the Sanders Portrait of Shakespeare on course to its present owner, Lloyd Sullivan (his great-grandson); 2) the Sanders Family Bible, whose pages laid out crucial information about the family genealogy that served as a guide for Pam Hinks’s extensive genealogical work in the Midlands; 3) the earliest known public reference to the Sanders Portrait of Shakespeare dating back to October 1862.

These documents were, effectively, the place at which the extended research on the portrait began. They are published by CASP for the first time together in the same place along with a short note by James Hales-Sanders (also a great grandson of Thomas Hales Sanders) about the sequence of events that make this Family Bible such an important part of the overall story.

• The Sanders Family Bible

Lloyd Sullivan’s mother, Kathleen, passed the Sanders painting to her only son just before she died in 1972 with the proviso that it would make a great retirement project, someday.

Lloyd Sullivan placed the painting on his dining room wall where it constantly reminded him of his mother’s wish that he undertake authentication of the family treasure, well-known throughout the family of aunts, uncles and cousins, and generally within family lore, as being a portrait of the great William Shakespeare, putatively painted by an ancestor during the Bard’s lifetime.

Retired from Bell Canada management in 1991 Lloyd Sullivan made the decision to begin the authentication process. He had no experience in the art world and very little genealogical experience. Fortunately, at the same time his mother handed him the painting, she also entrusted the family Bible to his care, a large and heavy book acquired by our great-grandfather, Thomas Hale-Sanders.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

As was the custom in the early 1800s, family history was recorded in the Bible, which was published in a Second Edition in December 1816 in Liverpool by Nuttall Fisher & Dixon, who were located on Duke Street and known for their good quality family Bibles. The Bible is large, full-calf bound in generally good order (despite foxing and binding degradation), with an attractive leather bookplate, marbled end-papers, and beautiful copper plate engravings throughout.

Like other Bibles from the same publisher and from the same period, it includes separate entries with a list of births and deaths of the Sanders family over several generations. Originally published in 1609 (just six years after the Sanders portrait was painted), the Old Testament portion of the Bible was the work of the English College at Douay, and the New Testament version used in the Bible was first published by the English College at Rheims in 1582.


Publication Information (Sanders Family Bible)

The information contained on the first pages of the family Bible provided Lloyd Sullivan with the all-important genealogical starting point to discovering his early ancestral origins, an arduous and time-consuming research project that ultimately led back to a startling array of family connections between Lloyd’s direct ancestors and Shakespeare’s inner circle.

Screen Shot 2016-01-11 at 4.17.40

Sanders Family Bible (detail of genealogical entries)


Like the Bible itself, Lloyd Sullivan’s journey would be long and laborious and similar to the Bible, he would discover that both the painting and the Good Book had survived floods, fires, and wars.

There are many other sources discovered over many years of research, but this Bible was the original starting point for the genealogical research on the Sanders Portrait of William Shakespeare.

James Hale-Sanders (January 2016)

• Thomas Hale-Sanders’ Last Will and Testament (Proved December 14, 1915)

Note that the will explicitly mentions the family Bible and gives it to Thomas Hale-Sanders’ son, Aloysius, along with the “reputed portrait of Shakespeare dated 1603.” Thomas Hale-Sanders’ will is careful to underline the “reputed” nature of the portrait, the full dimensions of the research required across multiple disciplines (scientific, genealogical, and internal and contextual evidence) largely unavailable to researchers at this point in time in the early twentieth century.

Thomas Hales Sanders’ Will

Below are photos of Thomas Hale-Sanders’ house in Worcester taken in 2013 by Daniel Fischlin as part of a research trip into the Midlands–the last known place in England where the Sanders Portrait of Shakespeare resided before it was brought to Canada after Thomas’s death.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

• Earliest Known Public Reference to the Sanders Portrait of Shakespeare

Finally, CASP is pleased to publish here the earliest known public reference to the Sanders Portrait of Shakespeare, dated October 4, 1862 from The Ipswich Journal.  We include in the gallery the full journal from that date, with the specific reference to the Sanders portrait found on page 8 of the journal proper (“Suffolk and Norfolk Institutes of Archaeology Meeting at Eccles”).

The Ipswich Journal October 4, 1862

The Journal reports that: “In the room was a presumed original portrait of Shakespeare. It had been in the family of the gentleman who exhibited it for nearly a century, and had always been considered to be an original portrait of Shakespeare.”

And …

“Perhaps the most noticeable thing in the room was a presumed original portrait of Shakespeare (1603), exhibited by Mr. S. H. Saunderson [sic; and presumably T.H. Sanders, Thomas Hale-Sanders, Lloyd Sullivan’s great-grandfather]. Of course, it is exceedingly doubtful whether this is a genuine portrait, for everything is doubtful about Shakespeare except his unexampled genius, but there is something suggestive of the character of the man in the appearance of the eyes in this portrait.”

Sanders Portrait Ipswich Journal Detail

Sanders Portrait mention in Ipswich Journal (detail)

Thomas Hale-Sanders’ (THS) father was Thomas Sanders who was christened Feb, 16, 1790 and died July 6, 1862. This exhibition took place in October 1862, so shortly after Thomas Hales Sanders inherited the portrait from his father. THS may well have been trying to promote the recently inherited portrait, possibly with some hope of selling it. The name of the owner is given in The Ipswich Journal report as S. H. Saunderson, which would not be the first (or last) instance of a reporter misreporting a name.

The description of the portrait, especially the mention of the eyes and the fact that it is dated 1603, is wholly consistent with the Sanders portrait and the report uses similar language to the M.H.A. Spielmann essay, written almost half a century later.


Victorian art critic M.H.A Spielmann (1858-1948); as painted by John Henry Frederick Bacon

That essay states: “It had been in the family of the gentleman who exhibited it for nearly a century, and had always been considered to be an original portrait of Shakespeare.” Spielmann quotes Thomas Hale-Sanders as saying “that the portrait had been for nearly a century in the possession of his relations, and had always been supposed to be a portrait of Shakespeare.”

Comments are closed.