Part Two of Reason 52 Why Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford was the Bard: the “Sweet Speech” to the Queen in 1581 was Shakespearean

On January 22, 1581 prior to a jousting tournament at the Whitehall Palace Tiltyard, the Page to Edward de Vere, the seventeenth Earl of Oxford delivered an “Oration” or “Sweet Speech” to Queen Elizabeth, undoubtedly presenting a story that his master had created and written.   The story is about “The Knight of the Tree of the Sunne,” a role to be played on the tournament field by Oxford himself.

In the previous month the earl had accused (correctly) his Catholic associates of treasonous plots against Elizabeth, incurring their wrath as well as accusations against him that included alleged mockery and criticism of the Queen.  Now, in a mighty effort to avoid falling from the royal favor, Oxford devised this story to expresses his “constant loyalty” to her.

Included below is the text of the speech (in more modern English), based on a reprinting by Charles Wisner Barrell in 1947 and a transcription made in 2004 by Oxfordian researcher Nina Green for her Oxford Authorship Site.  Oxford’s imagery in the Sweet Speech of 1581 is virtually the same as imagery in the works appearing under the “Shakespeare” name in the 1590s.

The beautiful and majestic Tree of the Sunne is Queen Elizabeth herself; and “Shakespeare” will also describe royal or noble persons as plants or trees.  Here, for example, is Richard, Duke of Gloucester, (in Richard III, 3.7), praising King Edward IV (while intending to take his crown):

The royal tree hath left us royal fruit,

Which, mellowed by the stealing hours of time,

Will well become the seat of majesty,

And make, no doubt, us happy by his reign.

Here is Antiochus speaking to the prince in Pericles, Prince of Tyre (1.1):

Yet hope, succeeding from so fair a tree

As your fair self, doth tune us otherwise.

Sebastian in The Tempest (3.3) alludes to the Arabian Tree as the throne of Queen Elizabeth, whose emblem was the Phoenix:

Now I will believe

That there are unicorns, that in Arabia

There is one tree, the Phoenix’s throne, one Phoenix

At this hour reigning there.  

The next and final part of Reason 52 will consider the Tree of the Sunne as combining both Queen Elizabeth and the tree of the Phoenix, which she used for her emblem.  (Oxford was also likened by writers of the time to Alexander the Great, who is mentioned in the Speech alongside the Phoenix.)  Meanwhile, here is the text of the oration (with some added emphases) that Oxford’s page delivered to the Queen:

THIS KNIGHT (most fair and fortunate Princess) living of a long time in a Grove, where every graft being green, he thought every root to be precious, found at the last as great diversity of troubles as of Trees:

The Oak to be so stubborn that nothing could cause it to bend: the Reed so shaking, that every blast made it to bow; the Juniper sweet, but too low for succor; the Cypress fair, but without fruit; the Walnut tree to be as unwholesome to lie under, as the bud of the Fig-tree unpleasant to taste; the Tree that bore the best fruit, to be fullest of Caterpillars, and all to be infected with worms; the Ash for Ravens to breed; the Elm to build: the Elder to be full of pith and no perfection, and all Trees that were not fertile, to be fit for fuel, and they that were fruitful, but for the time to please the fancy.

Which trying, he forsook the wood, and lived a while in the plain Champion: where, how he was tormented it were too long to tell, but let this suffice: that he was troubled, when every Moat fell in his eye in the day, and every Ant disquieted him in the night: where, if the wind blew, he had nothing to shield him but head and shoulders, if the Sun blazed, he could find the shadow of nothing but himself, when seeing himself so destitute of help, he became desperate of hope.

Thus wandering a weary way, he espied at the last a Tree so beautiful, that his eyes were dazzled with the brightness, which as he was going unto, he met by good fortune a Pilgrim or Hermit, he knew not well, who being appareled as though he were to travel into all Countries, but so aged as though he were to live continually in a Cave.

Of this old Sire he demanded what Tree it was, who taking this Knight by the hand, began in these words both to utter the name and nature of the Tree:

‘This Tree fair Knight is called the Tree of the Sun, whose nature is always to stand alone, not suffering a companion, being itself without comparison: of which kind, there are no more in the earth than Suns in the Element.

The world can hold but one Phoenix, one Alexander, one Sun-Tree, in top contrary to all Trees: it is strongest, & so stately to behold, that the more other shrubs shrink for duty, the higher it exalteth itself in Majesty.

‘For as the clear beams of the Sun cause all the stars to lose their light, so the brightness of this golden Tree eclipseth the commendation of all other Plants.

‘The leaves of pure Gold, the bark no worse, the buds pearls, the body Chrisocolla, the Sap Nectar, the root so noble as it springeth from two Turquoises, both so perfect, as neither can stain the other, each contending once for superiority, and now both constrained to be equals.

‘Vestas birth sitteth in the midst, whereat Cupid is ever drawing, but dares not shoot, being amazed at the princely and perfect Majesty.

‘The shadows hath as strange properties as contrarieties, cooling those that be hot with a temperate calm, and heating those that be cold with a moderate warmth, not unlike that Sun whereof it taketh the name, which melteth Wax, and hardeneth Clay, or pure fire, which causeth the gold to shine, and the straw to smother, or sweet perfumes, which feedeth the Bee, and killeth the Beetle.

No poison cometh near it, nor any vermin that hath a sting. Who so goeth about to lop it, lanceth himself, and the Sun will not shine on that creature that casteth a false eye on that Tree, no wind can so much as wag a leaf, it springeth in spite of Autumnus and continueth all the year as it were Ver. [An identification of Edward de Vere.]

‘If, Sir Knight you demand what fruit it beareth, I answer, such, as the elder it is, the younger it seemeth, always ripe, yet ever green. [Ever = E. Vere; Green = Tudor green]

‘Virtue, Sir Knight, more nourishing to honest thoughts, than the beauty delightful to amorous eyes; where the Graces are as thick in virtue, as the Grapes are on the Vine.

‘This fruit fatteneth, but never feeds, wherewith this Tree is so laden, as you cannot touch that place which virtue hath not tempered.

‘If you inquire whether any grafts may be gotten, it were as much as to crave slips of the Sun, or a Mould to cast a new Moon.

‘To conclude, such a Tree as it is, as he hath longest known it, can sooner marvel at it than describe it, for the further he wadeth in the praise, the shorter he cometh of the perfection.’

This old man having ended, seeming to want words to express such worthiness, he went to his home, and the Knight to his Sun Tree, where kissing the ground with humility, the princely tree seemed with [  ] to bid him welcome.

But the more he gazed on the beauty, the less able he was able to endure the brightness, like unto those that, looking with a steadfast eye to behold the sun, bring a dark dazzling over their sight.

At the last, resting under the shadow, he felt such content, as nothing could be more comfortable.

The days he spent in virtuous delights, the night slipped away in golden Dreams; he was never annoyed with venomous enemies, nor disquieted with idle cogitations.

Insomuch, that finding all felicity in that shade, and all security in that Sun: he made a solemn vow, to incorporate his heart into that Tree, and engraft his thoughts upon those virtues, Swearing, that as there is but one Sun to shine over it, one root to give life unto it, one top to maintain Majesty: so there should be but one Knight, either to live or die for the defense thereof.

Where-upon he swore himself only to be the Knight of the Tree of the Sun, whose life should end before his loyalty.

Thus cloyed with content, he fell into a sweet slumber, whose smiling countenance showed him void of all care. But his eyes were scarce closed when he seemed to see diggers undermining the  Tree behind him, that the Tree, suspecting the Knight to give the diggers aid, might have punished him in her [  ], but failing of their pretense, and seeing owe they struck to light upon their own brains, they threatened him by violence, whom they could not match in virtue.

But in clasping the Tree, as the only Anchor of his trust, they could not so much as move him from his cause, whom they determined to martyr without color.

Whereupon they made a challenge to win the Tree by right, and to make it good Arms – at which saying, the Knight being glad to have his Truth tried with his valor, for joy awakened. [Truth = Oxford’s motto “Nothing Truer than Truth”]

And now (most virtuous and excellent Princess), seeing such tumults towards for his Tree, such an Honorable presence to judge, such worthy Knights to Joust: I cannot tell whether his perplexity or his pleasure be the greater.

But this he will avouch at all assays himself to be the most loyal Knight of the Sun-tree, which who so gain-sayeth he is here pressed, either to make him recant it before he run, or repent it after; offering rather to die upon the points of a thousand Lances, than to yield a jot in constant loyalty.

In Shakespeare Sonnet 12, warning his royal son Henry Earl of Southampton against destroying the “green” Tudor dynasty of “beauty,” the Queen, whose blood he has inherited:

When lofty trees I see barren of leaves,

Which erst from heat did canopy the herd,

And summer’s green all girded up in sheaves

Borne on the bier with white and bristly beard;

Then of thy beauty do I question make

That thou among the wastes of time must go…

To the Dark Lady (Queen Elizabeth) in Sonnet 152:

And all my honest faith in thee is lost.

For I have sworn deep oaths of thy deep kindness,

Oaths of thy love, thy truth, thy constancy…

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