Reason 67 of 100 Why the Earl of Oxford was “Shakespeare”: Following the Trail of Three Plays of King John

PART ONE: John Bale’s “King Johan” & the Earls of Oxford

Elizabeth Tudor embarked on her royal progress in the summer of 1561, less than three years after her ascendency to the throne at age twenty-five, and in early August the court spent a week at Ipswich, where the Queen attended a performance of King Johan (King John), the first known historical verse drama in English and the first play to present a King of England on stage.

John Bale

John Bale

The author, minister-scholar John Bale (1495-1563), had written the first version of the play by 1537 while in the service of Henry VIII’s chief minister Thomas Cromwell, who helped engineer an annulment of the King’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon so that Henry could marry Anne Boleyn.  An active member of Cromwell’s stable of propagandists, Bale managed to turn King John – for centuries a despised monarch, who had surrendered England to the power of the papacy – into a Protestant hero.

A quarter century later, in 1561, the daughter of Anne Boleyn was on the throne and her own chief minister, William Cecil, was just as eager to use the stage for Reformation propaganda; and by now Bale had updated his King Johan in time for the arrival of Elizabeth at Ipswich.  A crucial link between the old morality plays and the new style of drama to come later in the sixteenth century, Bale’s version of John’s reign (1199-1216) presented him as a “good” king struggling against the Pope and the Church of Rome on behalf of England – just as Henry VIII had done and as Elizabeth was doing now.

        King JohnReigned 1199-1216

King John
Reigned 1199-1216

At this point Bale was writing plays for John de Vere, sixteenth Earl of Oxford, whose company of actors performed King Johan for Elizabeth at Ipswich.  Jesse W. Harris, in his 1940 biography of Bale, writes that he was “in the service of Oxford, for whom he wrote a series of plays intended for use as Reformation propaganda.”

Elizabeth’s progress continued to the Vere seat of Castle Hedingham in Essex for a visit of five nights (August 14-19, 1561).  In the great hall of the castle, John de Vere’s players again performed for the royal entourage, most likely with plays Bale had written under the earl’s patronage, including his newly revised play about King John.

On hand for the royal festivities was eleven-year-old Edward de Vere, the future seventeenth Earl of Oxford, who keenly watched  the twenty-seven-year-old Queen’s reactions to the performances; and historians of the future may judge whether this moment marks the true birth of “William Shakespeare” – who, after all, would write plays of English royal history mirroring current political issues.



A year later, upon John de Vere’s death, William Cecil had young Edward brought to London as a royal ward of the Queen in his care.  As Master of the Royal Wards, Cecil also “took possession of all the young noble’s assets,” reports Ruth Loyd Miller (1922-2005) in Oxfordian Vistas, adding:

“Cecil, who had standing orders for his agents on the Continent to supply him with copies of books and publications of interest, would not have failed to appreciate the sixteenth Earl of Oxford’s collection of Bale’s dramatic works, and to move them for safekeeping to Cecil House on the Strand.  Even before Bale’s death (in 1563), Archbishop Matthew Parker and Cecil were aware of the value of Bale’s work, and were involved in efforts to retrieve Bale’s manuscripts from various sources.  Undoubtedly ‘Shakespeare’ saw Bale’s manuscript plays, and undoubtedly he saw them through the eyes of Edward de Vere, who owned many of them, in the Library at Cecil House.”

PART TWO: The Anonymous “Troublesome Reign” & Shakespeare’s “King John”

The next phase of this story begins with the formation of Queen Elizabeth’s Men in 1583 at the instigation of secret service head Francis Walsingham, who knew the power of the stage as a means of spreading political propaganda.   Edward de Vere, thirty-three, contributed some of his adult players to the Queen’s Men along with John Lyly, his personal secretary, as stage manager.  And among the company’s history plays – up through 1588, when England defeated the Spanish armada and the Pope – was the anonymous Troublesome Reign of King John, printed in 1591 as “publicly acted by the Queen’s Majesty’s Players.”

Troublesome Reignof King John - 1591

Troublesome Reign
of King John – 1591

Seven years later, in late 1598, Francis Meres announced in Palladis Tamia that “Shakespeare” was not only the poet of Venus and Adonis and Lucrece, but, also, a playwright.  Meres listed six comedies and six tragedies, the latter including “King John” plus five others, all printed anonymously in this order:  Titus Andronicus in 1594; Romeo and Juliet, Richard II and Richard III in 1597; and Henry IV in 1598.

When Meres listed Shakespeare’s play as King John, wasn’t he referring to the anonymous Troublesome Reign of King John printed in 1591?  We might well think so, given that each of the other Shakespeare plays listed “for tragedy” was printed without any author’s name.  So why not the one about King John?  Well, the simple answer is because that play’s previous existence in the 1580’s is too early for William Shakspere of Stratford, the traditional author, to have written it.

Therefore, to make things fit, orthodox scholars tell us that Shakespeare’s play of King John was not the one published in 1591, but, rather, the one printed in the First Folio of 1623 as The Life and Death of King John.  It’s a different text, but virtually all scholars agree – if reluctantly – that the great author surely based his own King John on the earlier anonymous one, Troublesome Reign … which means that he must have been guilty of substantial plagiarism!

Oxfordian researcher Ramon Jimenez writes in the annual Oxfordian of 2010 that both the anonymous Troublesome Reign of King John and Shakespeare’s Life and Death of King John “tell the same story in the same sequence of events, with only minor variations … The same characters appear in both plays … [and] Shakespeare’s play contains the same scenes in the same order.”

The only logical conclusion is that both plays were written by the same author, who could not have been the Stratford fellow and must have been Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, who first appears in this story at age eleven.

Castle Hedingham -- an interior view

Castle Hedingham — an interior view

Jimenez reports “substantial evidence” that “Shakespeare” wrote Troublesome Reign “at an early age” and then “rewrote it in his middle years” to complete the text of King John printed eventually in the Folio of 1623.  And at this point we might be tempted to announce these facts as “smoking gun” evidence of Oxford’s authorship of Shakespeare’s plays, but we’ll refrain from that temptation while making one other point:

“No scholar has suggested “that Shakespeare depended on or even knew of John Bale’s King Johan,” writes James A. Morey in The Shakespeare Quarterly of autumn 1994, but, it turns out, “The accounts of the death of John by Shakespeare and Bale are significantly alike” and, for other reasons, it does appear that “Shakespeare” must have had firsthand knowledge of Bale’s play performed by John de Vere’s players for Elizabeth back in 1561 … three years before William of Stratford would be born!

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17 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. This *is* a smoking gun for me.

  2. Whittemore,

    some moths ago I commented a post of yours back to Decemeber 2008, asking your opinion about Oxford and Elizabeth had only Southampton or they had a twin ( Your answer was no and you asked me if I had in mind the Prince Tudor Theory Part II. You didn’t answered me yet and I think I wasn’t that explicit in asking you what did you meant by Edward de Vere and Edward Manners as Elizabeth’s bastards by her stepfather Seymour…

    I had already read many PT Theorists sites and I never heard of Oxford and Manners and twins of Elizabeth and Seymour…

    • Corretion: as twins of Elizabeth and Seymour…

      • Francisco, it was the idea of the late Elisabeth (Betty) Sears, author of Shakespeare and the Tudor Rose, and she used to talk about it — how Edward Manners and Edward de Vere were probably twins, born of Elizabeth and Seymour. Edward Manners became a royal ward in 1563, the year after Edward de Vere became the first one, and both lived at Cecil House. I believe Edward Manners (Rutland) died in 1587. Will look up some more, but that’s about it.

  3. Curious, let me study it :D!

    • Well Whittemore, I’m not able to find something 😦 . Can you help me?

  4. Hi Hank,
    It seems to me that you were writing about ‘my name is Will’ but alas I can’t find it where, so I write this place about my minor discovery about sonnet 136.
    In that sonnet Oxford writes:
    ‘Among a number one is reckoned none,
    Then in the number let me pass untold’.

    I was trying to imagine what ‘numbers’ should hide his name (or identity) – possibly in this very sonnet? And it hit me: he was 17th Earl. Let’s divide 136 by 17! The result is (surprisingly?) round: 8. And how many times can be found Will in this sonnet: 7 times. So his true self might be the one missing -among a number ONE is reckoned none.
    So he might be the missing one, and in the number 136 he did pass untold.

    • Maybe Oxford was the “missing one” because he was not made an heir.

      As a follower of the Prince Tudor Theory Part II (I don’t know if you are, Sandy), Oxford was born in 1548 as Elizabeth’s firstborn. According to the Act of Treason wrote in 1571, he could heir the throne, just like his other half-siblings.

      I think “Will” was not only a pun in Elizabeth’s lascivousness (she had many lovers) and Oxford pen-name when he wrote Shake-Speare’s Sonnets (William Shake-Speare). I think “Will” is too a pun in “Testament”, in a sense of heritage.

      For example, Sonnet 135 says:

      “Whoever hath her wish, thou hast thy Will,
      And Will to boot, and Will in overplus;
      More than enough am I that vex thee still,
      To thy sweet will making addition thus.
      Wilt thou, whose will is large and spacious,
      Not once vouchsafe to hide my will in thine?
      Shall will in others seem right gracious,
      And in my will no fair acceptance shine?
      The sea, all water, yet receives rain still,
      And in abundance addeth to his store;
      So thou, being rich in Will, add to thy Will
      One will of mine to make thy large Will more.
      Let no unkind, no fair beseechers kill;
      Think all but one, and me in that one Will.”

      I think this can be paraphrased as: Whoever satisfies a woman sexually, you (Elizabeth) have your own children, so many bastards that can be your heirs besides me, for I am one of them. Will you, the mother of so many royal bastards, hide them all incluing me from thy testament? Or will Cecil and James (“others”) seem kings and royal while I am not seeing as the prince I am? When it rains, the sea always receave water, and you, with so many bastards to be your heirs, could add me as one of them. Listen not to evil person like Cecil and James, think in making one of your bastards your heir and think in me when thinking in such matter.

      In Sonnet 136:

      “If thy soul check thee that I come so near,
      Swear to thy blind soul that I was thy Will,
      And will, thy soul knows, is admitted there;
      Thus far for love, my love-suit, sweet, fulfil.
      Will will fulfil the treasure of thy love,
      Ay, fill it full with wills, and my will one;
      In things of great receipt with ease we prove
      Among a number one is reckoned none.
      Then in the number let me pass untold,
      Though in thy store’s account I one must be;
      For nothing hold me, so it please thee hold
      That nothing me, a something sweet to thee.
      Make but my name thy love, and love that still,
      And then thou lov’st me, for my name is Will.”

      Here, I paraphrase as: If you note how much closer I was to you, you would swear I was your true heir, and your own soul knows that until that time my royal blood shall reveal itself. Your choosen heir will fulfil one for all your time as queen while your trying to choose one, thiking in me. With many options we prove that all your bastards shall never heir your crown. So I will pass between them without begin noted though to you I am your firstborn. In vain you ignore me as such but if it please you that I may prove how worthy I am. Make but me your heir and admit me as such for you are my mother and I your firstborn.

      You may be thinking “If the Sonnets told us Southampton was Elizabeth’s heir, why would Oxford be it too?”. I think it’s because Southampton was the royal firstbron’s firstborn, so, he was the heir of the prince, the incestuous ex-lover of the Queen.

      • Hi Francisco,
        great comment 🙂 Well, to answer your question: I’m not ‘of this theory’ or ‘of that theory’. What I (think I) know about Oxford/Southampton/Queen/Cecil quartet I mostly know from Hank’s invaluable book The Monument. Even that one provides so much information for me that I can’t cope with it 🙂 He has shown proofs of the ‘basic theory’ which I believe in, and I try to find clues hidden in the sonnets and in the dramas as well to support this basic theory – and nothing more. It’s beyond my possibilities to measure how many bastards Elizabeth had, what’s the chance that Southampton was the son of Oxford and the Queen, and so on. For me it would be mere speculation, so I don’t deal with this part – it doesn’t mean that I think it’s not true, simply I don’t know the proofs for this ‘line of events’ so I don’t want to show myself so clever as to judge your comment in this regard.

  5. Ok Sandy 😀 I respect your position!

    • What I’ve written is not correct: of course I do accept the fact that Southampton was their son: what I don’t know if Oxford was the son of the Queen and how many brothers (sisters, anyone? 🙂 ) he had…

      • Well, Paul Streitz created the Prince Tudor Theory Part II in 2001 with is book “Oxford: the son of Queen Elizabeth I”. In this book, he discovered how probable was that Oxford wasn’t only Elizabeth’s lover from 1573 to 1575 and fathered a son of hers but how he himself could be her firstborn. He believed in the evidences he found.

        Streitz said Oxford was born in the summer of 1548 (probably in 22 June 1548), son to Elizabeth and her stepfather Thomas Seymour. Elizabeth wasn’t present when her stepmother, Catherine Parr, gave birth to Mary Seymour in 3 August 1548 and when she came back to Court, she married her friend Margaret Golding to a man already married and who she never knew: John de Vere, 16th Earl of Oxford.

        In that year, Golding and de Vere married and two years after, in 1550, a baby Edward was baptized. In this same year, Mary Seymour was registed as dead. The next year, we have registers talking on a “Mary de Vere” but this new De Vere member’s birth date is uncertain. Some have said she born in 1554, others in 1551 but in uncertain. Streitz told Mary Seymour and Mary de Vere were the same. The registers of Mary Seymour given to Katherine Willoughby to be educated by her are doubtful and so Streitz though. To him, Mary Seymour was given to the Earl of Oxford, who for a misterious motive never baptized her.

        Streitz told us more. From Dudley, Elizabeth had Robert Cecil (1563?-1612; Streitz said Cecil begin “hunchback” was because he was born in the same time Elizabeth was suffering of smallpox); Robert Devereux (1565-1601); Mary Sidney (1561-1621); and Elizabeth Leighton (?-1628).

        Elisabeth Sears said Edward Manners was Edward De Vere’s twin. I still can’t find nothing so I’m still needing help 😛

        I have to discord a little with Streitz. I think Elizabeth’s bastards were: Edward de Vere (1548-1608); Francis Bacon (1561-1626); Mary Sidney (1561-1621; I ask myself if she was false twin of Bacon for 9 moths, I think, separate them); Robert Cecil (1563-1612); Robert Devereux (1565-1601); and Henry Wriothesley (1574-1624)

  6. Hi Hank,
    alas english is not my native language, so I need your help to weigh my idea 🙂 I’ve seen more signatures of Oxford, where the name was written in the form of Oxenford. For me it’s obvious that the name was related to the animal, and if so then back then the relation was even much stronger.
    And, the animal ox(en) was (and is) known for its ‘strong will’. If this all is true, then writing ‘my name is Will’ , Oxford might refer to his own name with a pun.

    • Beauclerk writes beautifully of 136 on p. 369, saying of Oxford and Elizabeth that “in subjugating himself to the royal will he was transformed into a man called Will — in effect annihilated.”

      They both had the will of an ox:-)

      • Hey just one thing (sorry to talk on other subject). I talked that in Sonnet 135 and Sonnet 136, is Oxford asking to Elizabeth to be her heir in order to Southampton be the heir of the Tudor Throne but in sooner sonnets to Southampton, Oxford ascribed is son and him to be one and the same person. The pain of one is the pain of another. Sonnet 133 is an example of what I am saying. Oxford could be talking as Southampton in Sonnet 135, 136 and 143.

      • Could be, Francisco, because yes they are one and the same. Notice the Christ imagery in 34, for example, and father imagery in 37, and following the Christian doctrine (maybe it is just Catholic?), the Father and the Son are the same and yet they are separate. This is a mystery:-) And it extends into the sonnets you mention, and both could cry in 143, “I, thy babe.” Speaking of 143, and the first line, “LOe as a carefull huswife runnes to catch” — Elizabeth was in fact called England’s housewife. (My favorite one speaking for both is 145.)

        I have no more yet on Edward Manners and why he would be Oxford’s twin. But am still looking.

  7. Whittemore, I think Oxford is speaking as both him and his royal son in Dark Lady’s Sonnets:

    – Sonnet 132 – When Elizabeth’s black eyes (she had them black, that’s a historical fact) shows they’re mourning her bastard and favorite’s death by her own hands, Essex’s death. Elizabeth may seem to pity too Oxford’s pain in thinking their son shall be the next one and Southampton’s pain by probably become the next one to die;
    – Sonnet 135 and Sonnet 136 – Oxford and Southampton are both Elizabeth’s bastars. Oxford is speaking for their son to be her heir; at the same time, Oxford is remebering Elizabeth that he is her first-born;
    – Sonnet 143 – In the past, Elizabeth neglect both Oxford as her son and Southampton as her son of son of her son. They are both infants. Now, both are suffering for the same matter (Southampton’s imprisonament);
    – Sonnet 145 – Elizabeth spare Southampton from death. By sparing Southampton, she spare at the same time his father and brother;

    I know I’m thinking in Sonnet 138 and 144. They appear in 1599 in “The Passionate Pilgrim”. The first talks on Elizabeth and the second in Elizabeth and Southampton. But if Southampton was in prison in 1601, why would the “bad angel” i.e Elizabeth keeping the “good angel” i.e Southampton in jail in 1599?

    I think I have the answer: Southampton was arrested with Elizabeth Vernon in the ocasion of their secret marriage in summer of 1598. She was one of the Maid of Honour of the Queen, she and Southampton fall in love, married in 30 August 1598 in secret and had a daughter in 30 November 1598. The Queen, obviously, get anger with both and send them into the Fleet Prison by the ends of 1598.

    Sonnet 144 must be written them, in my opinion. All the sexual image in sonnet, to me, are an absurd created by academics.

    I see in Sonnet 138 an early secret negotiation between Oxford and Elizabeth to libertate Southampton, this time, from the Fleet Prison. This negotiation may have started in the ends of 1598 and maybe Elizabeth didn’t released Southampton in the time she accorded with Oxford.

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