“And By Their Verdict” – The Living Record – Chapter 41

Excerpts from The Monument for Sonnets 43-44-45-46

Waiting for the execution of Essex and attempting to save Southampton’s life, the Earl of Oxford returns to the theme of the first of the prison verses, Sonnet 27, when his royal son appeared to him as “a jewel hung in ghastly night.”  In the daytime, he sees Southampton as “un-respected” (a convicted traitor in disgrace); at night, during sleep, he sees him in dreams as the true royal prince.  The “Summer’s Day” of Southampton’s royal blood has turned to darkness, shadow, and night; reality itself has been turned inside out.

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford

Sonnet 43 – “In Dead Night” – 24 Feb 1601

When I most wink, then do mine eyes best see;
For all the day they view things un-respected,
But when I sleep, in dreams they look on thee,
And darkly bright, are bright in dark directed.
Then thou whose shadow shadows doth make bright,
How would thy shadow’s form form happy show
To the clear day with thy much clearer light,
When to unseeing eyes thy shade shines so?
How would (I say) mine eyes be blessed made
By looking on thee in the living day,
When in dead night thy fair imperfect shade
Through heavy sleep on sightless eyes doth stay?
All days are nights to see till I see thee,
And nights bright days when dreams do show thee me.

The Tower of London

The Tower of London

The Execution of Essex – 25 Feb 1601

“The death of Essex left Sir Robert Cecil without a rival in the Court or cabinet, and he soon established himself as the all-powerful ruler of the realm.”  – Agnes Strickland, Elizabeth, 1906, p. 675

“The fall of Essex may be said to date the end of the reign of Elizabeth in regard to her activities and glories.  After that she was Queen only in name.  She listened to her councilors, signed her papers, and tried to retrench in expenditure; but her policy was dependent on the decisions of Sir Robert Cecil.”- Charlotte Stopes, The Life of Henry, Third Earl of Southampton, 1922, p. 243

Sonnet 44 – “Heavy Tears” – 25 Feb 1601

Essex is executed by beheading at the Tower of London.  Robert Cecil has gained all power to engineer the succession upon Elizabeth’s death; and Oxford will be forced to go through Cecil, his brother-in-law, to save Southampton’s life.  In the eighth line he makes an unmistakable reference to the Tower as “the place” – a common euphemism for the monarch’s fortress-like prison.  Alluding indirectly to the death of Essex’s mortal body (“the dull substance of my flesh”), Oxford refers to the first two of the four “elements” (earth, water, air, and fire) of life.  He writes of having to attend “time’s leisure” (the Queen’s pleasure or royal will) that will likely lead to Southampton’s death, and he records his funereal “moan” over this impending loss.  Oxford and Southampton share “heavy tears” and “woe” over the tragedy of this wrongful execution.

If the dull substance of my flesh were thought,
Injurious distance should not stop my way;
For then, despite of space, I would be brought
From limits far remote, where thou dost stay;
No matter then although my foot did stand
Upon the farthest earth removed from thee,
For nimble thought can jump both sea and land
As soon as think the place where he would be.
But ah, thought kills me, that I am not thought,
To leap large lengths of miles when thou art gone,
But that so much of earth and water wrought,
I must attend time’s leisure with my moan;
Receiving naughts by elements so slow
But heavy tears, badges of either’s woe.

“You both shall be led from hence to the place from whence you came” – the Lord High Steward, speaking to Southampton and Essex at the end of the trial on 19 Feb 1601

Robert Cecil

Robert Cecil

Sonnet 45 – “Thy Fair Health … Swift Messengers” – 26 Feb 1601

The Privy Council takes note of Southampton’s “long sickness, which he hath had before his trouble.”  His health is poor and he’s being treated both for a quartain ague and a swelling in his legs and other parts of his body. Messengers on horseback bring word to Oxford from the Tower that Southampton’s health has been stabilized.  Oxford rejoices, but then, sadly, sends them back to the Tower with more correspondence (perhaps some of these sonnets) for his imprisoned son.  (His “fair” health = his “royal” health.)

The other two, slight air, and purging fire,
Are both with thee, wherever I abide:
The first my thought, the other my desire,
These, present absent, with swift motion slide;
For when these quicker Elements are gone
In tender Embassy of love to thee,
My life being made of four, with two alone
Sinks down to death, oppressed with melancholy,
Until life’s composition be re-cured
By those swift messengers returned from thee
Who even but now come back again assured
Of thy fair health, recounting it to me.
This told, I joy; but then no longer glad,
I send them back again and straight grow sad.

Sonnet 46 – “By Their Verdict” – 27 Feb 1601

Oxford continues his daily sonnets by again pledging his devotion to Southampton, addressing him as his royal son.  In this verse, he recreates the entire experience on the “quest” (jury) at the trial, leading to the “verdict” of guilt by which Southampton continues to face execution.

Mine eye and heart are at a mortal war
How to divide the conquest of thy sight;
Mine eye, my heart thy picture’s sight would bar
My heart, mine eye the freedom of that right;
My heart doth plead that thou in him dost lie
(A closet never pierced with crystal eyes),
But the defendant doth that plea deny,
And says in him thy fair appearance lies.
To ‘cide this title is impanelled
A quest of thoughts, all tenants to the heart,
And by their verdict is determined
The clear eyes’ moiety, and thy dear heart’s part:
As thus, mine eyes’ due is thy outward part,
And my heart’s right, their inward love of heart.

Execution on Tower Hill

Execution on Tower Hill

So ends the second chapter:

CHAPTER ONE: THE CRIME: Sonnets 27-36    8 Feb – 17 Feb 1601

CHAPTER TWo: THE TRIAL: Sonnets 37-46   18 Feb – 27 Feb 1601

The sequence of 100 sonnets at the center of the monument is structured as a book of 10 chapters, each containing ten sonnets. Chapter Two – The Trial concludes, appropriately, with a trial whose jury members render “their verdict” as Oxford and the other peers on the tribunal had been forced to issue a guilty verdict against Essex and Southampton.

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