The Shakespeare Dedications and the Daughters of Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford — a “Family Affair”: No. 57 of 100 Reasons Why Edward de Vere was the Great Author

Only three men received dedications of Shakespeare works and each man was engaged to one of the Earl of Oxford’s three daughters.

Elizabeth de Vere (1575-1627) was engaged to Southampton but married William Stanley, 6th Earl of Derby

Henry Wriothesley Earl of Southampton, to whom Venus and Adonis (1593) and Lucrece (1594) were dedicated, was then engaged to Oxford’s eldest daughter Elizabeth de Vere.

He refused to marry her despite pressure from William Cecil Lord Burghley, the girl’s grandfather and his guardian.  Elizabeth de Vere married William Stanley Earl of Derby at Greenwich Palace on January 26, 1595, when A Midsummer Night’s Dream was performed for guests.

The only other “Shakespeare” work directly dedicated to anyone was the First Folio in 1623, with thirty-six plays in over nine hundred pages, offered to “the most noble and incomparable paire of brethren”– William Herbert Earl of Pembroke and his brother Philip Herbert Earl of Montgomery.

William Herbert, third Earl of Pembroke (1580-1630)

Pembroke  had been engaged in 1597 to Oxford’s second daughter Bridget de Vere.

Montgomery married Oxford’s youngest daughter Susan de Vere in 1604.

The Folio of 1623 appeared nineteen years after Oxford’s death and seven years after the death of William Shakspere in Stratford-on-Avon.  The front matter, supervised by Ben Jonson (who also wrote the main introductory epistles), never explicitly identified the Warwickshire man; instead it contained a reference to “sweet Swan of Avon” and a mention of “thy Stratford moniment,” leaving it to people in the future to conclude that Shakspere was the great author and to build an entirely fictional “biography” based on that conclusion.

Philip Herbert the first Earl of Montgomery (1584-1650) at age 25 in 1609

Oxfordian researcher Ruth Loyd Miller (1922-2005) called the Shakespeare folio “a family affair” that began with the marriage of Susan de Vere and Philip Herbert during the 1604-05 Christmas-New Year season, six months following Oxford’s death on June 24, 1604.  Court festivities for the wedding included performances of seven “Shakespeare” plays – an unspoken tribute to the absent author.

The first two plays were “The Moor of Venice” (Othello) and The Merry Wives of Windsor.  Two more were performed, before and after the main event:

December 26: Measure for Measure

December 27: Wedding of Susan de Vere and Philip Herbert

December 28: The Comedy of Errors

In January the performances continued with Love’s Labour’s Lost, hosted by Southampton, followed by Henry the Fifth and The Merchant of Venice, the latter presented twice.

Susan de Vere dancing in Ben Jonson’s “Masque of Blackness” on January 6, 1605 at Whitehall in the Old Banqueting House

In addition there was Masque of Blackness by Jonson at Whitehall Palace; and the performers included the bride and groom, Susan and Philip; Elizabeth de Vere and her husband Derby; and Bridget de Vere’s former fiancé William Herbert Earl of Pembroke.

“This was the beginning of a long and intimate association between the daughters of the Earl of Oxford and their families, and Ben Jonson, climaxed in 1623 with the publication of the First Folio,” Ruth Miller wrote.  Jonson would remain “particularly close” to Susan de Vere and the Herbert brothers, Pembroke and Montgomery, with Pembroke bestowing on Jonson twenty pounds at the beginning of every new year “with which to purchase books.”

It was also the start of “an active, determined and intense campaign by Pembroke for the position of Lord Chamberlain of the Royal Household,” Miller continued, noting the position “had purview over the office and properties of the Revels Office” and those of the Lord Chamberlain’s Company, which had become the King’s Men.

In 1616 Ben Jonson published a folio of his own works (the first of its kind in England), listing Shakespeare as having acted in two of his plays, Every Man in His Humour of 1598 and Sejanus of 1603 (without mentioning the Bard as a writer!).

Ben Jonson’s 1616 Folio of his Collected Works

Jonson’s costly folio was dedicated to Pembroke, his patron, who may have financed it.  Pembroke arranged at that time for Jonson to receive a pension of one hundred marks a year.  Jonson’s folio was issued just a few months after the death of Shakspere of Stratford in April 1616 – an event that occurred without any public comment.  Jonson’s identification of Shakespeare an actor would be repeated in the Folio of 1623.

In 1621 Pembroke temporarily increased Jonson’s pension to two hundred pounds.  Having become the Chamberlain, now “all he wanted to do was retain” his position, Miller wrote, “and under no conditions was he willing to accept more lucrative posts unless he might leave his place to his brother Montgomery.”  Obviously Pembroke was fiercely committed to publishing Shakespeare’s plays in folio.

(It may be that Pembroke was simply determined to preserve the great plays before they could be lost or destroyed.  But Katherine Chiljan suggests in Shakespeare Suppressed (2011) that Pembroke may have wanted to obscure the Bard’s connection to Southampton, whose identity as the son of Oxford and Queen Elizabeth posed a potential threat to King James and, in turn, endangered Pembroke’s own wealth and political power that came from the Stuart monarch.  In fact the First Folio in 1623 emphasized the great author as an actor, far from the nobility, and it contained none of the Shakespeare poems or sonnets and no mention of Southampton at all.)

Number 57 of 100 reasons why Oxford was the great author is simply that the Shakespeare dedications all lead back to Edward de Vere and his daughters and other relatives.  To repeat Ruth Miller’s phrase, what we have here is “a family affair.”

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I know that these “reasons” are ordered somewhat-randomly BUT I think that this is one of the top-ten in terms of importance, maybe even top-two/three considering the elementary fact that one-half of all of the plays have only survived as a result of their collection in The First Folio in 1623, which was financed by the Herbert brothers and De Vere’s daughter.

    • Yes, I agree. It will be interesting to try to arrange the 100 reasons into some special order or orders.

  2. Thanks once again, Hank. I’m glad you mentioned that “Shakespeare” is listed as acting in the first performances of two of Ben Jonson’s plays. But never after 1604.

    I’m skeptical of the prevailing theory that Shaksper of Stratford was an actor. A “bearward,” more likely, as was his stand-in Christopher Sly in The Taming of a Shrew. I don’t know a single bit of evidence that “Shakespeare” ever acted after de Vere’s death in 1604.

    And Happy Thanksgiving!

    • I agree, Richard. Thanks for emphasizing the point. It seems Oxfordians are far from consensus on the matter of Shakspere’s alleged acting career. I’m with you on it. My feeling is that the real effort to create a “story” started after the accession of James, which meant also after the solidifying of Robert Cecil’s power. In addition he was uncle of Oxford’s daughters, and also had control over Jonson to a greater degree than we may realize. Of course Cecil died in 1612, so it was up to Pembroke, Susan de Vere, and Jonson, etc., to create a reality about Shakspere that may never have existed. I hope we can find the real story!


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