It has been suggested that John Shakespeare was a Catholic. On one occasion he was fined by Queen Elizabeth's government for refusing to attend Protestant services; this could indicate recusancy, or one of several other reasons for resisting the state's sponsorship of Anglicanism. Shakespeare's signature appeared on an oath prepared by the English Jesuits Robert Parsons and Edmund Campion, who secretly visited Stratford-Upon-Avon and other towns in Northern England to minister to its Catholics in the early 1580s. The oath swore that the signer would "remain a Catholic in his heart." The signing of this oath would automatically attain for the signator the grace of Extreme Unction upon his death, in the event that a priest was unavailable to give Last Rites, an event which the Elizabethan persecution of priests made likely. A minority of scholars claim that Shakespeare's signature on the oath was a forgery. As the signed document was not discovered until the 18th century, it is difficult to judge their claims one way or the other.
John Shakespeare remained a Catholic in the face of the Tudor dynasty's sponsorship of Anglicanism and attempted to teach the faith to his son William, with limited success. The younger Shakespeare did not fully consider himself Catholic, but he did retain "some leanings in that direction," even long after his father's death. For instance, when he was severely surprised his instinct was to make the Sign of the Cross, though he attempted to suppress this instinct in public lest he draw suspicion for the crime of recusancy.
John Shakespeare's faith took pride of place once again when the Spanish Armada conquered England and restored Catholicism as the official state religion. His nostalgia for the celebration of the Catholic Mass left his son William receptive to the grandeur and glory of Catholic sacraments.
John Shakespeare had been a man who wanted to see his son as less than John was, not greater, a fact that William was well aware of into adulthood.