Southampton to the Council, written from the Tower: “…my harte was free from any premeditate treason against my souerayne”

[Note: See Bill Boyle’s blog post on the Southampton Tower Poem at his Shakespeare Adventure site]

Below is one of the two letters that Henry Wriothesley the third Earl of Southampton wrote to the Privy Council soon after his trial on 19 February 1601, while in the Tower of London awaiting execution.

Inside Traitors Gate at the Tower of London

My view is that Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford revealed his role behind the scenes in Sonnet 35, writing to Southampton: “Thy adverse party is thy Advocate” or “I was your ‘adverse party’ at the trial, being forced to vote with all the other peers on the tribunal to condemn you to death; but I am also your Advocate, your legal defender, trying to save you.”  [See Sonnet 35 below]

Oxford’s help behind the scenes appears to have included advising Southampton on what to write to the Council and Robert Cecil.  Possibly the individual sonnets were one means by which he conveyed information to him in the Tower.  And quite possibly he helped him with the recently discovered poem entitled The Earle of Southampton prisoner, and condemned. to Queen Elizabeth. 

In her article on Wriothesley’s poem in the 2011 English Literary Renaissance, Lara M. Crowley recalls that while awaiting execution Southampton wrote at least two letters to the Council as well as a separate confession and a letter to Robert Cecil.  His writings from this period “reflect a desperate and (quite rightly) frightened penitent.  Surely these anxious outpourings were fueled by the executions of Essex and fellow conspirators and by the persistent whispers surrounding Southampton’s impending doom.”  And she notes the “cumulative connections” between the earl’s prison writings and his poem to the Queen.

HENRY EARL OF SOUTHAMPTON TO THE COUNCIL:

“My Lordes,

“I beseech your Lordships bee pleased to receaue the petition of a poore condemned man, who doth, with a lowly and penitent hart, confess his faults and acknoledge his offences to her Maiestie.  Remember, I pray your Lordships, that the longest lyuer amongest men hath but a short time of continewance, and that there is none so iust vppon earth but hath a greater account to make to our creator for his sinnes then any offender haue in this world.  Beleeue that God is better pleased with those that are the instrumentes of mercy then with such as are the persuaders of severe iustice, and forgett not that hee hath promised mercy to the mercifull.” 

Another view inside Traitors Gate

Though thou repent, yet I have still the loss – Sonnet 34

The offender’s sorrow lends but weak relief

To him that bears the strong offence’s cross – Sonnet 34

Excusing thy sins more than thy sins are – Sonnet 35

“What my fawte [fault] hath been your Lordships know to the vttermost, wherein, howsoeuer I have offended in the letter of the law, your Lordships I thinke cannot but find, by the proceedings att my triall, that my harte was free from any premeditate treason against my souerayne…”

[We pause here to consider that Southampton, writing to the Council, refers to the Queen as “my sovereign.”  Oxford uses the phrase “my sovereign” in the plays of Shakespeare thirty-four times, in each case when a character is speaking to or about a monarch.  The phrase occurs in the plays of English history 1 Henry IV, 2 Henry IV, Henry V, 1 Henry VI, 2 Henry VI, 3 Henry VI, Henry VIII, Richard II and Richard III.  It also occurs in The Winter’s Tale as “my sovereign mistress.”

[Oxford-Shakespeare uses it elsewhere just once, in Sonnet 57:  “I (my sovereign) watch the clock for you.”

Heads of Traitors on Pikes at London Bridge by the Tower

[With Southampton referring to the Queen as “my sovereign” and Oxford using that phrase consistently in the history plays in reference to a King, without ever using it within any other context, is there any possibility that he or any other poet could call the Earl of Southampton “my sovereign” within a romantic context?  I think not!  But if Oxford is writing this sonnet to Southampton, he would call him “my sovereign” only if he really believes him to be his prince.]

“…though my reason was corrupted by affection to my friend [Essex] (whom I thought honest) and I by that caried headlonge to my mine, without power to preuent it, who otherwise could neuer haue been induced for any cawse of mine owne to haue hazarded her Maiesties displeasure but in a trifle : yet can I not dispayre of her fauor, nether will it enter into my thought that shee who hath been euer so renowned for her uertues, and especially for clemency, will not extend it to mee, that doe with so humble and greeued [grieved] a spirit prostrate my self att her pardoninge one whose harte is without spott, though his cursed destiny hath made his actes to bee condemned, and whose life, if it please her to graunte it, shallbe eternally redy to bee royall feete and craue her pardon. O lett her neuer sufer to bee spiled the bloud of him that desiers to live but to doe her sendee [service?] , nor loose the glory shee shall gaine in the world bysacrifised to accomplish her least comandement.”

The Gate

No more be grieved at that which thou hast done – Sonnet 35

To you it doth belong/ Your self to pardon of self-doing crime – Sonnet 58

“My lords, there are diuers amongest you to whom I owe particular obligation for your fauors past, and to all I haue euer performed that respect which was fitt, which makes me bould in this manner to importune you, and lett not my faultes now make me seem more vnworthy then I haue been, but rather lett the misery of my distressed estate moue you to bee a mean to her Maiestie, to turne away her heauy indignation from mee. O lett not her anger continew towardes an humble and sorrowfull man, for that alone hath more power to dead my spirites [spirits] then any iron hath to kill my flesh.

The Tower & Gate from the Thames

“My sowle is heauy and trobled for my offences, and I shall soon grow to detest my self if her Maiestie refuse to haue compassion of mee.  The law hath hetherto had his proceedinge, wherby her Justice and my shame is sufficiently published; now is the time that mercy is to be shewed.  O pray her then, I beseech your lordships, in my behalf to stay her hand, and stopp the rigorus course of the law, and remember, as I know shee will neuer forgett, that it is more honor to a prince to pardon one penitent offender, then with severity to punish mayny.”

Nor can thy shame give physic to my grief – Sonnet 34

Prison my heart in thy steel bosom’s ward,

But then my friend’s heart let my poor heart bail;

Whoe’er keeps me, let my heart be his guard,

Thou canst not then use rigor in my jail — Oxford to the Queen in Sonnet 133

“To conclude, I doe humbly entreate your Lordships to sound mercy in her eares, that therby her harte, which I know is apt to receaue any impression of good, may be moued to pity mee, that I may Hue to loose my life (as I have been euer willing and forward to venture it) in her service, as yourlordships herein shall effect a worke of charity, which is pleasinge to God; preserue an honest-harted man (howsoeuer now his fautes haue made him seem otherwise) to his contry; winn honor to yourselues, by fauoringe the distressed; and saue the bloud of one who will live and dy her Maiesties faythfull and loyall subiect.

“Thus, recommendinge my self and my sute to your Lordships’ honorable considerations; beseechinge God to moue you to deale effectually for mee, and to inspire her Maiesties royall harte with the spirite of mercy and compassion towardes mee, I end, remayninge, Your Lordships most humbly, of late Southampton, but now of all men most vnhappy,

“H. WRIOTHESLEY.”

Sonnet 35

No more be grieved at that which thou hast done:

Roses have thorns, and silver fountains mud,

Clouds and eclipses stain both Moon and Sunne,

And loathsome canker lives in sweetest bud.

All men make faults, and even I in this,

Authorizing thy trespass with compare,

My self corrupting salving thy amiss,

Excusing thy sins more than thy sins are:

For to thy sensual fault I bring in sense,

Thy adverse party is thy Advocate,

And ‘gainst my self a lawful plea commence.

Such civil war is in my love and hate,

That I an accessory needs must be

To that sweet thief which sourly robs from me.

From THE MONUMENT:

THY ADVERSE PARTY IS THY ADVOCATE

THY ADVERSE PARTY = Oxford, who will sit on the tribunal at the trial and be forced to render a guilty verdict against his son; “He speaks against me on the adverse side” – Measure for Measure, 4.6.6; PARTY = side in a legal case; -plaintiff or defendant; “But dare maintain the party of the truth” – 1 Henry VI, 2.4.32; “To fight on Edward’s party for the crown” – Richard III, 1.3.138 (on his side); “My prayers on the adverse party fight” – Richard III, 4.4.191; “Thy son is banished upon good advice, whereto thy tongue a party-verdict gave: why at our justice seem’st thou then to lour?” – Richard II, 1.3.233-235 (part of the verdict); “Upon the right and party of her son” – King John, 1.1.34 (on his behalf); to Elizabeth: “And play the mother’s part” – Sonnet 143, line 12

My prayers on the adverse party fight – Richard III, 4.4.191

Besides, the King’s name is a tower of strength,

Which they upon the adverse faction want – Richard III, 5.3.12-13

“I have hitherto passed the pikes of so many adversaries” -Oxford to Robert Cecil,Oct 7, 1601

 “I am very glad if it so prove, for I have need of so many good friends as I can get, and if I could I would seek all the adversaries I have in this cause to make them my friends” – Oxford to Robert Cecil, December 4, 1601

THY ADVOCATE = your defender.  (“Your legal opponent is also your legal defender” – Duncan-Jones); Oxford is telling his son that, at the trial, he will have no choice but to render a vote of guilty; he is therefore an adverse party, but in his heart and behind the scenes he is acting as his son’s advocate; ADVOCATE = “One whose profession it is to plead the cause of any one in a court of justice; a counsellor or counsel … One who pleads, intercedes, or speaks for, or in behalf of, another; a pleader, intercessor, defender … Specially, applied to Christ as the Intercessor for sinners” – OED, the latter adding to suggestions in the Sonnets that Oxford is acting as a Christ figure, sacrificing himself in order to redeem the sins of Southampton

You’re my prisoner, but

Your gaoler shall deliver the keys

That lock up your restraint.  For you, Posthumous,

So soon as I can win th’offended king,

I will be known your advocate – Cymbeline, 1.2.3-7

If she dares trust me with her little babe,

I’ll show’t the King, and undertake to be

Her advocate to th’ loud’st – Winter’s Tale, 2.237-39

I never did incense his Majesty

Against the Duke of Clarence, but have been

An earnest advocate to plead for him  – Richard III, 1.3.85-87

“We have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” – Biblical

King’s Advocate: “The principal law-officer of the Crown inScotland, answering to the Attorney-General in England” – OED


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