No. 50 of 100 Reasons Why the Earl of Oxford was “Shakespeare”: He Was Court Impressario & Master Showman: The Staged Military Battle at Warwick Castle in 1572

We now reach No. 50 of 100 Reasons to believe that Edward de Vere, the seventeenth Earl of Oxford wrote the works of “William Shakespeare.”  Half the journey is over!  Thanks to you, dear reader, for checking in and being a part of it.

Warwick Castle

This reason involves an elaborate entertainment in the form of a mock military battle in the summer of 1572 at Warwick Castle between two armies, one under Oxford’s command.

I have often thought that “Shakespeare,” if alive in our own time, would become not only a poet and playwright but also a screenwriter and director on a grand scale, similar to modern greats such as David Lean or Steven Spielberg or Francis Ford Coppola.  He would seize the chance to make the most of our advances in the technology and art of filmmaking.

When Edward de Vere emerges from the shadows of history, the curtain will rise on not only the hidden genius who adopted the pen name “Shakespeare” at age forty-three in 1593, but also on the great impresario who, unknown to the public, was the primary force behind the extraordinary pageant of entertainments for Queen Elizabeth and her royal court.

An ariel view of Warwick Castle…

Along with the outpouring of plays, performed in the relative privacy of that privileged audience, were spectacular public entertainments such as the mock battle at Warwick Castle.

Let us follow the account of a contemporary chronicler, with my occasional italicizations for emphasis:

“Be it remembered that in the year of our Lord 1572, and in the fourteenth year of our Sovereign Lady Queen Elizabeth, the twelfth day of August in the said year, it pleased our said Sovereign Lady to visit this borough of Warwick in person…”

On summer progress with the court, she arrived in great splendor as all the chief citizens assembled on their knees outside the town to greet her.

Cover of “The Queen’s Progress: An Elizabethan Alphabet” by Celeste Davidson Mannis

“Her Majesty in her coach, accompanied with the Lady of Warwick in the same coach … the Lord Burghley, lately made Lord Treasurer of England, the Earl of Sussex, lately made Lord Chamberlain to Her Majesty, the Lord Howard of Effingham, lately made Lord Privy Seal, the Earl of Oxford, Lord Great Chamberlain of England…”

By now Oxford was Burghley’s son-in-law.  His close friends Thomas Radcliffe, Earl of Sussex and Charles Howard, Earl of Effingham, were charged with ensuring that plays were performed at court – a duty they would carry out until Sussex’s death in 1583.

The Queen spent a week in the Warwick area and on Sunday 18 August “it pleased her to have the country people resorting to see her dance in the Court of the Castle … which thing, as it pleased well the country people, so it seemed Her Majesty was much delighted and made very merry.”

In the evening after supper came the mock battle, which, among other things, was an exercise in theatrical realism.

Elizabeth and the court first saw a fort, commanded by Fulke Greville, “made of slender timber covered with canvas.”  Inside were “divers persons to serve the soldiers; and therefore so many harnesses as might be gotten within the town … wherewith men were armed and appointed to cast out fireworks, as squibs * and balls of fire.

Fulke Greville (1554-1628)

“Against that fort was another castle-wise prepared of like strength, whereof was governor the Earl of Oxford, a lusty gentleman, with a lusty band of gentlemen.

“Between these forts, or against them, were placed certain battering pieces, to the number of twelve or fourteen, brought from London, and twelve fair chambers, or mortar pieces, brought also from the Tower … These pieces and chambers were by trains fired, and so made a great noise, as though it had been a sore assault …

Arquebus or Harquebus

The Earl of Oxford and his soldiers, to the number of two hundred, with calivers and arquebusses, ** likewise gave divers assaults; they in the fort shooting again, and casting out divers fires, terrible to those that have not been in like experiences, valiant to such as delighted therein, and indeed strange to them that understood it not.

“For the wild fire falling into the river Avon would for a time lie still, and then again rise and fly abroad, casting forth many flashes and flames, whereat the Queen’s Majesty took great pleasure…

[This seems to be as close to one of our own war movies as the 16th century could get!]

“At the last, when it was appointed that the over-throwing of the fort should be, a dragon flying, casting out huge flames and squibs, lighted up the fort, and so set fire thereon, to the subversion thereof; but whether by negligence or otherwise, it happened that a ball of fire fell on a house at the end of the bridge…

An engraving of Warwick Castle, 1729

“And no small marvel it was that so little harm was done, for the fire balls and squibs cast up did fly quite over the Castle, and into the midst of the town; falling down some on the houses, some in courts … and some in the street … Four houses in the town and suburbs were on fire at once, whereof one had a ball come through both sides, and made a hole as big as a man’s head, and did no more harm.”

A man and his wife were sleeping in the house that got hit with the fire ball, but Oxford and Greville ran over and, after some difficulty, rescued the couple.  Next morning the Queen and her courtiers gave the man more than twenty-five pounds to cover the loss of their home.

Such high drama on a grand scale is exactly what we might expect to find “Shakespeare” creating as a young man, more than two decades before his adoption of that pen name.   We might well expect to find that, in addition to becoming the greatest writer of the English language, the great poet-dramatist was also a master showman.

[The contemporary chronicle was in Black Book of Warwick, printed in Bibliotecha Topographica Britannica, vol. iv., and reprinte by B. M. Ward in his 1928 biography The Seventeenth Earl of Oxford, 1550-1604, From Contemporary Documents.]

* Squib – a firework in the form of a tube or ball filled with powder that burns with a hissing noise until it ends with a slight explosion.

** Arquebus (Harquebus) – a simple form of musket, i.e., a small-caliber long gun operated by a matchlock or wheel-lock mechanism with a piece of burning cord igniting the priming powder in the pan, which in turn ignites the main charge in the barrel.  It dates from about 1400.

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Surely, the fact that Elizabeth spent a week in the vicinity of Warwick in 1572 – which is not that far from Stratford-Upon-Avon – might have/could possibly/maybe/it’s not too much to imagine (etc., etc.) been the moment when the eight year-old Will Shaksper made such an impression on the Queen that she plucked him from obscurity and arranged for him to be properly-educated so that he could speak four or five foreign languages, read Greek and Latin, visit Italy, learn the intricacies of the law, medicine, courtly manners, aristocratic activities and all those other knowledges and behaviours that are so fully on display in the works of William Shake-speare.

    • Yes, well, that’s an amazing story. Literally incredible.

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