Reason No. 25 to Believe that Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford was Shakespeare: His Grant of a Thousand Pounds Per Year

English ships battle Spain's Armada - 1588

On June 26, 1586, when England was officially at war with Spain and bracing for King Philip’s invasion by armada, Queen Elizabeth signed a warrant granting Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford an extraordinary allowance of a thousand pounds per year.  The grant was to be paid to him by the Exchequer, according to the same formula used for payments to Secretary Francis Walsingham and his wartime secret service, that is, to be made in quarterly installments with no accounting required.

Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603)

At this time the English government desperately needed all available cash for military defense, to secure Elizabeth’s safety and the survival of her realm; and Walsingham required a constant flow of cash to pay foreign and domestic spies for his network of espionage.  Back in 1582 the Queen had given him 750 pounds; in 1586 she raised it to two thousand pounds; but that would be the limit for her spymaster — even during 1588, the year of England’s surprising victory over the Armada.

Sir Francis Walsingham (1532-1590)

So why would Elizabeth — known for being a most parsimonious (some would say miserly) monarch — choose to support a “spendthrift” nobleman who had “wasted” the vast bulk of his great inheritance?  And why would she authorize such a large annual pension to be paid to him right now, of all times, at this most perilous moment for the nation?

Oxford’s grant apparently went unnoticed by historians until two years after John Thomas Looney published “Shakespeare” Identified in Edward de Vere the Seventeenth Earl of Oxford in 1920.  Inspired to conduct further research, B. M. Ward discovered Elizabeth’s signature on the Privy Seal Warrant and then looked at surviving records for all other salaries and annuities paid from the Exchequer during her reign.  Aside from sums paid to James of Scotland for political reasons, he found, the grant to Oxford was larger than any other except for the annual 1,200 pounds to the Master of the Posts for the expenses of that office.

As Ward noted in his 1928 documentary biography The Seventeenth Earl of Oxford, there’s no hint as to the purpose of the grant, except that it was “to be continued unto him during Our pleasure, or until such time as he shall be by us otherwise provided for to be in some manner relieved, at what time our pleasure is that this payment of one thousand pounds yearly to our said cousin in manner above specified shall cease.”  The warrant also stated that the Exchequer was not to call upon Oxford to render any account of its expenditure, as in the case of secret service money.

Blackfriars Playhouse - In the 1580's Oxford gave the lease of it to John Lyly

Edward de Vere at age thirty-six was in fact broke and needed “to be in some manner relieved,” but the circumstantial evidence clearly suggests he had been working with Secretary Walsingham (and his father-in-law, William Cecil Lord Burghley) to serve the government’s interests.  The evidence points to him playing a multi-faceted role behind the scenes that included, but was not limited to, the issuance of his own “comedies” for the stage – as the anonymous writer of The Arte of English Poesie would write in 1589: “For tragedy Lord Buckhurst and Master Edward Ferrys do deserve the highest praise: the Earl of Oxford and Master Edwards of Her Majesty’s Chapel for Comedy and Enterlude.”

Oxford actively patronized two acting companies performing at the private Blackfriars Playhouse and at the royal court.  He patronized and/or employed many literary men for whom he provided working space, inspiration, guidance and freedom from the wartime suppression of written words and speech.  Some of the writers in his service, such as Anthony Munday and Thomas Watson, operated as Secret Service agents (as did Christopher Marlowe) while using their artistic activities as public cover; and others working under his wing included Robert Greene, John Lyly and Thomas Lodge, to name just a few more.

It was Walsingham himself who had initiated formation of Queen Elizabeth’s Men in 1583.  (He had received his first regular allowance for espionage after years of financing it from his own pocket, just as Oxford had been financing acting companies, writers and musicians with his personal funds.) The Secretary ordered the twelve best actors from existing companies to be transferred into the new Queen’s Men.  Then in January 1584 Oxford’s adult company performed at Court with his secretary Lyly as payee; and in March that year Oxford’s company performed with the Queen’s players at Court, again with Lyly handling the business side.

So the two acting companies had been amalgamated, with Oxford’s secretary apparently serving as business agent, stage manager and rehearsal coach.   In other words, soon after the head of the Secret Service had spawned Her Majesty’s own acting group, Edward de Vere rushed to contribute in various ways to its success.  Meanwhile, the plots of several royal history plays performed in the 1580’s by the Queen’s Men – including The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth, The Troublesome Reign of King John and The True Tragedy of Richard III – would appear in the 1590’s and later as virtually the same plots of plays attributed to Shakespeare.

The anonymous play The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth was performed by the Queen's Men in the 1580's

“The formation of the Queen’s Men in 1583 should be regarded particularly in connection with the intelligence system,” Scott McMillin and Sally-Beth MacLean write in The Queen’s Men and Their Plays.  “The point is not that the Queen’s Men were spies, but that traveling players wearing the Queen’s livery would have been useful to Walsingham – perhaps for occasionally bearing messages to the right persons, more obviously for showing that the central government was attending to the nation through its licensed travelers.”

With at least two companies always on tour, the Queen’s Men performed plays that would rouse patriotic fervor and encourage unity among Protestants and Catholics in the face of the coming Spanish invasion.  (To call this “propaganda” would be true, but not the whole of it.)  And I suggest, first of all, that Oxford had spent much of his fortune on helping to bring the European Renaissance to England – on his travels in 1575-1576 through France, Germany and Italy; and on his employment of various artists who would create the great surge of English literature and drama in the 1580’s, leading to “Shakespeare” in the following decade.

In a real sense Edward de Vere was a leader (or the leader) in creating a new English language, culture and national identity — weapons as important as ships and guns in building up England’s ability to withstand attack.  And we could not expect to find these matters written down in the Queen’s Privy Seal Warrant authorizing his grant.

Six decades later, the Rev. John Ward, vicar of Stratford Parish in Warwickshire, recorded local rumors in his diary (1661-1663) that “Shakespeare” had “supplied the stage with two plays every year and for that had an allowance so large that he spent at the rate of a thousand pounds a year.”

The Armada Battle

In fact Oxford received his annual thousand pounds during the rest of the Anglo-Spanish War, from 1586 through the death of Elizabeth in 1603 and the succession of King James, until his own death in 1604.  That amounts to a total of eighteen years; and, of course, eighteen years times two plays per year equals thirty-six plays, the number of them published in the First Folio of Shakespeare in 1623.  Coincidence?

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8 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I wonder, Hank, that this was not too much to pay a single provacateur. I think it more likely that Burleigh petitioned the queen for this money to keep his son-in-law afloat. I’ve never found this 1000 pounds for plays a convincing argument (unlike all your other points which I find compelling).

    • Thanks very much, Linda. I agree — this is a precarious one. I may add to it some of my thinking that I left out, which I’ll mention briefly here. First, yes, to keep him afloat; that is the immediate, direct reason; but what if he had already spent his own money, sold lands, etc., for the whole project of travel, experience, learning, writing, etc., and then for the companies and writers — well, by 1586 he would have spent much of his inheritance. What else would he have spent it all on? I know — clothes, etc — but this is an argument, let’s say; that he was being compensated for expenses and deeds of the past, and for further work to come, which may have something to do with bringing the previous work to the general public in London. (Queen’s Men were mostly travelers, it seems.)

      Then we have the connection to Walsingham, the puritannical spymaster who never set foot in a theater but starts the Queen’s company, and Oxford is right there at the creation of it in 1583 — by which time he has been heavily involved in helping Lyly with the two Euphues novels and bringing his plays to Blackfriars for rehearsals and then performances at court. On June 21, 1586, Burghley writes to Walsingham urging him to confront Elizabeth about forthcoming financial relief for Oxford. Walsingham is playing go-between for news from Elizabeth in regard to money for Oxford. Things are happening at this time — such as on June 23, 1586 the government exercises new sweeping control over publications — all books to be approved at the highest levels, censorship etc. And on June 25, Oxford writes to Burghley saying “I have some comfort at this time from Master Secretary Walsingham” and says “I am one that hath long besieged a fort and not able to compass the end or reap the fruit of his travail, being forced to levy his siege for want of ammunition” — an apt metaphor in this time of war — a day before the Queen will sign the grant warrant — and he asks Burghley for a temporary loan “till Her Majesty performeth her promise.” So it’s been a long time coming — how long? Maybe back several years during which time he’s been very busy with the acting companies and writers etc.

      Also for the queen to give cash like that, instead of property with income attached, is unusual. Especially then year after year, even after his Trentham marriage helps bail him out. And even then renewed by James who is also taking over the LC Company, the company of Shakespeare, making it the royal King James Men.

      Then look at it this way:-) — Looney identifies Oxford as fitting the profile of Shakespeare, and two years later in 1922 Ward finds this grant — something very unusual for the queen, something unusual insofar as no accounting, an extraordinarily large grant, with Walsingham somehow involved and concerned about it — in other words, given the hypothetical premise that much more was going on with Oxford than has met the eye, this is a kind of confirmation that the premise may well be right.

      Anyway — thanks!
      Best from Hank

  2. Thank, you, Hank. Interesting detail about the Walsingham connection — I wouldn’t have though Burghley would have needed an intermediary. Most grateful, L.

  3. Linda, I have to agree with Hank on this one.

    If you read Nelson carefully on this point you’ll notice something quite extraordinary that he discovered that in my view completely demolishes the view that this was a mere handout from the crown. As Hank notes, one or two days before the grant was signed into law, Burghley wrote to Walsingham asking if something could be done for his son in law. On the surface that might seem to support the “Stratfordian” view. It certainly proves that Burghley was involved and was advocating on Oxford’s behalf.

    But, wait a minute….why was he writing to *Walsingham* on a matter of personal business? This is just nonsense. The only plausible reason he would be appealing to Walsingham is that the annuity was in fact tied up with an undocumented (because classified) expectation of “services rendered” involving state sponsored intelligence and propaganda. Nelson has here performed a great service for the Oxfordians. He just doesn’t know it. His scholarship destroys his argument.

    And one further point….in his original argument, Ward noted that the funds in question were disbursed under section 13 of the exchequer. Ward was an expert among other things on the minutiae of Elizabethan state finances, and he says in no uncertain terms that this was the part of the exchequer used to fund secret service operations. If this was some sort of personal gift from the Queen to aid an impoverished peer, this was NOT the proper book-keeping procedure.

    I would say that a significant preponderance of the evidence contradicts the view that this money was simply given as a gift from the Queen so that Oxford could “maintain his estate.”

  4. On Phaeton years ago we figured out that Elizabeth transferred deeds from Oxford’s estates to Leicester when Devere was young at a rate of 982 pounds a year. So for about 10 years Leicester stole about 10,000 pounds from Oxford? In today’;s money that is millions of dollars. So I’m not so sure Oxford “squandered it all”. Perhaps the Queen needed his services and also wanted to make some amends.

    Whoever wrote Hamlet seems to have gotten literary revenge on Leicester, as well as Burghley.

    Ken

    • Thanks for bringing up that side of it, Ken. I agree and at the same time, wonder about Elizabeth’s motives in letting Leicester have so much of the Oxford wealth. Aside from her feelings toward Leicester, what if any negative feelings did she have about young Oxford and why? In any case I don’t think the one reality cancels out the other, i.e., it’s also true that the thousand-pound annuity must be seen as exceptional in the first place, especially given its beginnings in the midst of heavy wartime expenditure.

      I have a feeling, merely intuitive, that the Phaeton attempt to remove Oxford from the center of court and government is, consciously or otherwise, an attempt to keep him away from the clutches of Prince Tudor advocates like myself. But there is no necessary connection between government service and being the father of an unacknowledged son by the Queen; the former appears to be true regardless of whether the latter is true. “I have done the state some service,” Othello reminds his listeners, “and they know it.” But do we know it?

  5. Iv’e been studying edward de vere for some time
    I also came to the conclusion that de vere was a very clever man I feel he Walsingham and Lord Burleigh worked together in order to protect England and Elizabeth
    The work written by Shaxspere was a cover for espionage
    Maybe even a coded verse to be read by Walsingham and Burliegh
    The plot thickens the more I read about Edward de vere and Marlow
    Maybe there are more than one play write ,a network of spies under the guise of actors.
    One thing I can’t understand is why Walsingham had Edward de vere put in the tower for his relationship with Anne Vascour

    My family name is Golding The name of Edward de vere ‘s mother
    This name goes way back into Anglo Saxon days
    I do hope Edward was part of the Golding family I come from
    June Golding

    • Thanks for writing. I wonder if there’s a way to find out more about your ancestry. Yes, there must be a lot we don’t know about the relationships to the government and each other back then.


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