Reason No. 22 Why Oxford = Shakespeare: His 1570 Geneva Bible with Its Annotations in the Earl’s Own Hand — And the Irony of Henry Clay Folger’s Purchase of it in 1925…

A great irony of the authorship movement is that Henry Clay Folger, founder of that bastion of Stratfordian tradition in Washington, D.C., the Folger Shakespeare Library, was an Oxfordian sympathizer.  Folger took such keen interest in J. T. Looney’s 1920 identification of Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford as “Shakespeare” that, five years later in 1925, he bought the Geneva Bible the earl had purchased in 1570 at age nineteen.

Henry Clay Folger (1857 - 1930)

Mr. Folger apparently had an open mind; in due time, as evidence in the postscript below will indicate, he very possibly would have gone on to become a full-fledged Oxfordian!

Edward de Vere’s copy of the Geneva Bible was quietly ensconced in the Library when it opened in 1932, two years after Folger’s death.  There it remained, unheralded, until 1992 – sixty years!  — when Oxfordian researchers Dr. Paul Nelson and Isabel Holden learned it was being guarded by folks with powerful reasons to keep its contents under wraps.  And those contents were explosive: more than a thousand marked and/or underlined verses, apparently in Oxford’s own hand, with plenty of links to the Shakespeare works.

Enter Roger Stritmatter, who would pore over the handwritten annotations in Oxford’s Bible (often in partnership with journalist-author Mark Anderson) for the next eight years, earning his PhD in Comparative Literature at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.  Dr. Stritmatter’s dissertation The Marginalia of Edward de Vere’s Geneva Bible, presented in April 2000, stands as both a remarkable achievement in scholarship and a landmark event in the history of Shakespearean authorship studies.  The dissertation is also a powerful demonstration of insights and connections that become possible when the correct biography of “Shakespeare” is brought into alignment with historical documents (such as Oxford’s Bible) in relation to the poems and plays.

Dr. Roger Stritmatter's Dissertation on Oxford's Geneva Bible: a Landmark in Oxford-Shakespeare Scholarship

When Edward de Vere obtained his copy he was still a royal ward of Queen Elizabeth in the custody of William Cecil Lord Burghley.  In his documentary life of Oxford published in 1928, B.M. Ward reported finding an account book with “Payments made by John Hart, Chester Herald, on behalf of the Earl of Oxford” during 1570, with entries such as:  “To William Seres, stationer, for a Geneva Bible gilt, a Chaucer, Plutarch’s works in French, with other books and papers – … Tully’s and Plato’s works in folio, with other books …”  (These are sources used by “Shakespeare” for inspiration.  If traditional scholars ever found such a list for the Stratford man, they’d hold a parade!)

“To William Seres, stationer, for a Geneva Bible gilt” – well, yes, the copy in the Folger had that same gilded outer edge on the front.  Bound in scarlet velvet, its silver engraved arms belonged to the Earl of Oxford.

“The first edition was published in 1560 in Geneva,” Stritmatter reports on his website.  “Due to its incendiary implied criticisms of Catholicism, it remained a popular unauthorized translation throughout the reign of Elizabeth I … Over a hundred years of scholarship has made it clear that the Geneva Bible was the translation most familiar to Shakespeare.”

Among the approximately 1,043 underlined or marked verses in Oxford’s Bible, one hundred and forty-seven are cited by previous authorities as having influenced Shakespeare.  Twenty marked verses contain language “at least as close” to other language already identified as Shakespearean influences – and so on, not to mention cases where Stritmatter found connections to the works of Shakespeare that previously had gone unnoticed.  The earl’s copy also contains some thirty-two short handwritten notes that have been verified (through independent forensic paleography) to be his.  And many themes reflected in the marked passages “can be traced directly to known biographical facts of Oxford’s life,” Stritmatter writes, confirming that “not only was Oxford the original owner of the book, but it was he who made the annotations.”

Dr. Roger Stritmatter

During Stritmatter’s journey he began to perceive a series of “patterned relations” narrating a “spiritual story” that we can see only when Edward de Vere is perceived as Shakespeare – a story about “secret works” by an annotator whose name is removed from the historical record but who, nonetheless, re-emerges as the man who gave the world the greatest works of the English language.

For example, Oxford marked and partially underlined Verse Nine of Chapter Seven in MICHA“I will bear the wrath of the Lord, because I have sinned against him, until he plead my cause and execute judgment for me; then will he bring me forth to the light…”

“Shakespeare” wrote in Lucrece:

Time’s glory is to calm contending Kings,

To unmask falsehood, and bring truth to light

Oxford wrote under his own name to Secretary Robert Cecil (in 1602):

“Now time, and truth, have unmasked all difficulties.”


From the Shakespeare Fellowship Quarterly of January 1946, more evidence that Henry Clay Folger was an Oxfordian sympathizer:

In 1929 Esther Singleton published Shakespearian Fantasias: Adventures in the Fourth Dimension, with stories based on characters in Shakespeare’s comedies.  Obviously having read Shakespeare Identified by Looney, she introduced the Earl of Oxford as Berowne of Love’s Labour’s Lost, Jacques of As You Like It and Benedick of Much Ado About Nothing.  Folger found these tales so delightful that he bought at least twenty copies of the book to give away to friends; and just before he died, he also negotiated with Miss Singleton to buy her original manuscript.  Although she herself died only two weeks later, her heirs eventually presented the manuscript to the Folger Library in her memory.  So, just as Sigmund Freud’s acceptance of the Oxfordian theory was suppressed, Henry Clay Folger’s sympathy toward Oxford’s authorship was kept a closely guarded secret for decades — until, that is, Edward de Vere’s copy of the Geneva Bible (laying virtually hidden in a great Library ostensibly dedicated to scholarship and truth!) became one more reason to believe that the earl himself was William Shakespeare.

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22 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. That Oxford in 1602 came close to 1594’s Lucrece’s expression of truth is not surprising. Anyone could take a riff off of it. But that he wrote, in May 1603, “Truth is truth though never so old and time cannot make that false which was once true,” and Measure for Measure’s “For truth is truth to the end of reckoning,” did not come out until a year afterward, tends to make you suspect he thought it first, and was turning over ways to say it before reaching the final phrase.

    • What a good point! Thanks, William. Keep up the good work.

    • “True filed lines.”

    • As has been said, this is, ipso facto, earthshaking in its implications.

  2. Wow! This has to be one of the most interesting and thought provoking blogs on the web relating to the authorship question. Thank you for illuminating so fully Henry Folger’s own determination to get to the bottom of the problem also, long before he died. He was a secretive man, and fairly obsessed by it, collecting 80 odd First Folios -a third of the world’s population. The importance of Stritmatters’ PhD work, THE MARGINALIA OF EDWARD DE VERE’s GENEVA BIBLE (the translation most familiar to Shakespeare) is, as you say,”a remarkable achievement in scholarship”, rich with gems and insights co-relating de Vere’s marginalia to the Shakespeare corpus. You are right: if traditional scholars ever found such a list of books purchased for the Stratford man (Bible, Chaucer, Plutarch’s Works in French, Tully, Plato) they would hold a parade. Please keep up this excellent work of “100 Reasons…”; it makes a dense subject accessible, and thankfully, there is a new generation of scholars willing to learn. As Wiliam Ray says, anyone could riff on Lucrece’s expression of ‘truth’; but Oxford would rephrase that very idea of ‘unmasking’ (1602) again in one of his last letters to Robert Cecil (1603): “for truth is truth though never so old…” Hmmmm, sounds like he wanted to get a point across!

    • Dorna, thanks so much. Means a lot, coming from you!

  3. Hi Hank , I was thrilled to read about Esther Singleton´s book. But I found out that t seems to be unaccessible (unless you pay about 120 Dollars). Is there any chance that it is put on the internet for people to read (just like Looney´s book on the Fellowship´s website) ?! – And thank you for your brilliant articles which I always enjoy reading .
    Best regards from Germany – Inge Drcks.

  4. Only that they both wrote in English.

    • Well, that’s a start::-)

  5. Jean Hilliard, thank you for taking the time to reply; but your sarcasm (something I was taught to avoid at Brunel – another example of ad hominen) regarding what you consider is a sloppy inference drawn from the evidence of Oxford’s many uses of the cognates of ‘true’ (a derivative of Latin ‘Ver’) is a tad ironic in the circumstances since we do, at least, have scores of Oxford’s handwritten letters and poems in the original for further investigation. The same cannot be claimed for the theatre man Shacksper. Fowler’s book SHAKESPEARE REVEALED IN THE SEVENTEENTH EARL OF OXFORD (1986) is a groaning grain house
    of connections between Oxford’s letters and the Shakespeare canon – a good place to start. Whittemore also explicates more fully in his Reason No. 11 above, Part Two of Two (April 15, 2011). See also Stritmatter’s own blog on Fowler in his “Unsung Heros” series: “A Matter of Style: an Oxfordian Challenge” at . ‘Fowler’ in the search box will bring it up.

  6. I think your reply on 10/3 to Jean Hilliard is simply wrong. She wasn’t being sarcastic, merely implying in a clever way what many of us think—that you draw conclusions that are unwarranted.

  7. I agree with Jean Hilliard, who I assume is saying indirectly that the 10/3 entry makes conclusions about the significance of facts, which are probably wrong—not the facts, just the conclusions, which to us appear much less logical than simple coincidence.

    • I would love to experience debates on this with Roger’s help. His thesis is worth reading in any case. Thanks for all comments.

  8. I too had trouble finding Esther’s book but it seems that there is a copy or two to be found.

  9. or you can borrow it from openlibrary.

  10. Hank, thanks for the great article. 🙂

    • You are more than welcome, Roger. The implications of a wider and deeper context are clear; and your work has given us a huge view of the spiritual and other kinds of riches to be found.

  11. Does it occur to anyone that some passages are as a general rule more popular than others, and also that in a particular context some passages will seem compelling, while others are worth ignoring? Ask a sample of Christians what the most significant passages are in the bible, and there just WILL be an overlap. Right now, for instance, the Woman taken in Adultery will feature heavily, because it chimes with the current idea of Christianity being gentle and forgiving. In addition, it will be preached from the pulpits – for similar reasons. In an age where orthodoxy was compulsory, bishops were surely instructing their underlings on which passages should be given prominence. They would be RAMMED into the zeitgeist like a poker up the bottom of Edward II.

    In short IF some correspondence WERE found between the bible annotations and the works of Shakespeare. It would have all the shock value of discovering that Freddie Mercury was gay.

  12. “Time’s glory is to calm contending Kings,

    To unmask falsehood, and bring truth to light”

    “Now time, and truth, have unmasked all difficulties.”

    And this is your best shot. Wow. You haven’t noticed that it’s ‘difficulties’ that are being unmasked in one quote and ‘truth’ that’s being unmasked in another. You are genuinely convinced by this.

    Then I have a proposition for you. Tower Bridge over the Thames is to be dismantled, and I have the rights to its sale. All I need is a deposit of $100 000, and it’s yours.

  13. Both quotes in my previous comment, are supposed to reflect the biblical words, “then will he bring me forth to the light…” Do you think it might just be remotely possible that ‘bringing things to light’ might have been pretty much proverbial then, as it is now? Is it JUST possible that it might almost amount to a cliché that things might be ‘unmasked’ or ‘be brought to light’ ?

    Is every modern reference to ‘unmasking’, or ‘bringing to light’, or ‘throwing light on the subject’ actually a reference to the Geneva Bible? You think MODERN people who use these expressions MUST be readers of the Geneva Bible?

    You seem intelligent people. Can you see what wishful thinking has done to your brains?

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