The Two Gentlemen of Verona — Alencon and Simier in an Early Version: No. 71 of 100 Reasons to Believe Oxford wrote the Shakespeare Works



One of the more remarkable episodes in Elizabethan history occurred during the time of the French Match, when the Duke of Alencon sent over an “advance man” in early 1579 to woo the Queen before he himself could get there to marry her.  The envoy was Alencon’s master of the wardrobe and close friend Jean de Simier, whose smooth tongue and erotic flattery so captivated Elizabeth that her nobles were shocked and flabbergasted as well as extremely jealous.  As contemporary historian William Camden put it, the little French aristocrat was “most skilled in love-toys, pleasant conceits, and court dalliances” – transforming the 45-year-old Queen of England into a radiant, gasping, giggling young woman suddenly appearing half her age.



Elizabeth called the dark-skinned representative of Alencon her “monkey” as she basked in his sweet whisperings and refinements of French passion at Richmond Palace.  The masterful Simier appeared to be seducing her in front of the entire English court.  He and Elizabeth enjoyed intimate suppers and dined together by candlelight when they weren’t jumping in and out of each other’s bedrooms.   Could it be that, while paving the way for the Queen’s bridegroom, he had become her lover?  (It seems so!)

Alencon himself came over unofficially that August, staying at Greenwich Palace, where Elizabeth swooned over him as well.  Calling him her “frog,” she treated him with a great show of affection – despite his being more than twenty years younger, not to mention the disfigurations of his face and body from childhood smallpox, which also had stunted his growth before he could reach five feet.

Imagine that during this time you happened to be the chief comedy-writer and stage producer for the rarefied audience of the Elizabethan royal court!  How could you resist putting on some satirical skits to set the palace on a roar?  (Today such skits might resemble the parodies on Saturday Night Live.)  Oh, my, what fertile ground for a young playwright such as Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford – who apparently had Elizabeth’s approval, and even encouragement, to have uproarious fun with it!

On 26 December 1579, a play called A History of the Duke of Milan and the Marquis of Mantua was presented at Whitehall Palace by the actors of the Earl of Sussex, Lord Chamberlain, who was Oxford’s great friend and supporter.  Eva Turner Clark suggested in 1930 that this court comedy was one of the earliest versions of The Two Gentlemen of Verona – which, more clearly than most plays attributed to Shakespeare, appears to reveal the various stages of its development.

Edward de Vere spent much time in Italy during 1575-76, sojourning in Verona and Venice.  He had ample opportunity to attend Italian plays and the street theater of Commedia dell’arte – influences in Two Gentlemen with which William of Stratford could not have been familiar.  The settings of the play are Verona, Milan and the frontiers of Mantua – which Clark saw as representing Paris, London and Flanders.

(Oxford returned home from the Continent in April 1576 after fifteen months, cutting short his stay because of scandalous gossip at Court that his wife Anne Cecil had committed adultery and had given birth to another man’s child.  In the play, Valentine apparently alludes to this personal episode by saying he had been traveling “some sixteen months, and longer might have stayed if crooked fortune had not thwarted me.” – 4.1.21)


It seems that the early version of 1579 was more topical and much shorter than the later one, which was mentioned by Francis Meres in 1598 but withheld from publishers until it appeared in the First Folio of 1623 under the title The Two Gentlemen of Verona.  The early version for the court presented characters loosely based on participants in the Anglo-French marriage:  Elizabeth became Silvia, the beautiful daughter of the Duke of Milan; Alencon became Valentine, the gentleman of Verona who travels to the court at Milan and falls in love with Silvia; and Simier became Proteus, the other gentleman of Verona, who sues for Silvia’s affections himself.

Within Two Gentlemen the many allusions to the proposed Alencon match (as it stood circa 1579) include a reference to Alencon’s escape from the Louvre window by means of a rope-ladder, which he did on Valentine’s Day the year before.   Oxford may have used the name itself, Valentine, for Alencon because of that escape; and Valentine appears to refer to the episode when he speaks of himself and Silvia:  “Ay, we are betrothed: nay, more, our marriage-hour, with all the cunning manner of our flight, determined of: how I must climb her window, the ladder made of cords; and all the means plotted and ‘greed on for my happiness.”

Another allusion is the use of the French word “mal-content” in reference to opponents of Catherine de Medici called the Malcontents, of whom Alencon was the figurehead.  When Valentine asks Speed how he can tell that he, Valentine, is in love, Speed replies: “Marry, by these special marks:  first you have learned, like Sir Proteus, to wreathe your arms like a malecontent; to relish a love-song…”

Oxford apparently kept updating the early topical play as the French Match proceeded to its conclusion in early 1582, when Alencon finally left England for good.  In the previous December, the French prince was still stubbornly refusing to leave and actually threatened the Queen, telling her:  “If I cannot get you for my wife by fair means and affection, I must do so by force, for I will not leave this country without you!”

It’s Proteus who gets to mirror that statement, in the final scene of the play:

PROTEUS: Nay, if the gentle spirit of moving words can no way change you to a milder form, I’ll woo you like a soldier, at arms’ end, and love you ‘gainst the nature of love,–force   ye.

SILVIA:  O heaven!

PROTEUS:  I’ll force thee yield to my desire!

      First Folio - 1623

First Folio – 1623

(The praise of Silvia in Two Gentlemen reflects the worshipful flattery lavished upon Elizabeth as when Valentine says of Silvia: “Yet let her be a principality, sovereign to all the creatures on the earth!”)

When the play was revised yet again, much later, its new title The Two Gentlemen of Verona was perhaps an inside joke indicating “The Two Sides of One Ver” – (1) Valentine, the idealistic side of Oxford, the courtier setting forth to travel; and (2) Proteus, the creative side of Oxford, as artist who views the world more darkly.

But that aspect goes beyond the topic at hand … that the presence of Alencon and Simier in an earlier, shorter, more topical version of Two Gentlemen is yet another reason to conclude that Oxford wrote the works attributed to Shakespeare — as opposed to William of Stratford, who, in 1579, was still only fifteen years old.

Postscript: The reigning Stratfordian scholars apparently need to keep denying that the French match is treated in the Shakespeare plays; or, more accurately, they need to keep ignoring it altogether.  But once someone sees the evidence of it in Two Gentlemen, as well as in several other plays, notably A Midsummer Night’s Dream, there’s a moment of clarity — an “aha!” moment — or, well, I’d say there should be!

“Look here upon this picture, and on this … See what a grace was seated on this brow…”

“…Hyperion’s curls; the front of Jove himself; an eye like Mars, to threaten and command … A combination and a form indeed where every god did seem to set his seal to give the world assurance of a man.” – Prince Hamlet, act three, scene four

     First Folio - 1623

First Folio – 1623


Benson's Bogus Edition               1640

Benson’s 1640 Edition of Poems with Sonnets out of order (and merged to form longer poems) so that the Monument to Southampton as an unacknowledged royal prince is disguised — with a few pronouns changed from masculine to feminine … an extension of the Folio effort to steer “Shakespeare” away from the Court and from the true author’s connection to Queen Elizabeth and her Tudor heir to the English throne


The Signatures of Shaksper and Shakespeare

William Shaksper of Stratford upon Avon left behind six signatures.  Apparently, but not certainly, all are his.  This is the extent of his known writings:


(See below for more information about the Shaksper signatures.)

The true Shakespeare, Edward, Earl of Oxford, left behind a few different forms of signature.   He used a “crown” signature from November 1569 until the funeral of Queen Elizabeth on April 28, 1603, when the Tudor dynasty ended.

oxfod crown signature


SHAKE-SPEARES SONNETS – The Two Separate Title-Pages

The book entitled “SHAKE-SPEARES SONNETS, Never before Imprinted,” published in 1609, had two simultaneous printings with separate title-pages: one set of copies to be sold by John Wright at Christ Church gate, the other to be sold by William Aspley (at the sign of the Parrot).  Recently I opened the edition by Tucker Brooke (1936) and found the two title-pages together.  It’s not often, if ever, that they’re viewed together, so I thought to share this (Click on the image for a large view):

Two sonnet covers

The Duke of Alencon Appears in “Shakespeare” once the Author is Edward de Vere – Reason No. 70 Why Oxford wrote the Works

In the traditional biographies of William Shakespeare, you will find no hint that Francois de Valois, Duke of Alencon may be depicted in any of the Shakespeare plays* – mainly because his courtship of Queen Elizabeth had ended by 1582, when William of Stratford was just eighteen.  On the other hand, Edward de Vere the seventeenth Earl of Oxford was then thirty-two, having lived at the center of the political storm of the French Match during the previous decade; and with Oxford in mind as the author, a curtain is lifted and Alencon may be seen in several Shakespearean plays, starting with Cymbeline, King of Britaine.

* If any reader finds such a hint in Stratfordian biography, please let us know.

Francois, Duke of Alencon

Francois, Duke of Alencon

Elizabeth was on royal progress in the summer of 1578 when the French envoys arrived to begin negotiations for her marriage to Alencon, youngest son of Catherine de Medici, the most powerful woman in Europe.   The Queen received the French diplomats at Long Melford, where she sent for her highly favored courtier Edward de Vere, the Seventeenth Earl of Oxford, who was then twenty-eight, to perform a dancing exhibition for the delegation.  Shockingly, however, Oxford refused to obey his sovereign – not once, but twice. Catherine de Medici of Florence had married Henry II of France in 1547 at age fourteen.  She became a political force upon his death in 1559, as the mother of three successive kings: Francis II, who died in 1560; Charles IX, who died in 1574; and Henry III, then twenty-three.  Catherine had been the regent in charge for young Charles when persecutions of Huguenots (French Protestants) erupted in the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre of 1572, when thousands were killed in Paris and throughout France.

    Catherine de Medici           1519-1589

Catherine de Medici

Now in 1578 Catherine was promoting the marriage of her fourth and youngest son with Elizabeth Tudor.  The Duke of Alencon was about half the age of the Queen of England; he was twenty-three, she was forty-five.  In boyhood his face had been scarred by smallpox, which also had slightly deformed his spine.  Alencon had rebelled against his royal family in 1575, proclaiming himself a protector of the Huguenots; nonetheless he was still a Catholic and, given that his brother Henry III was childless, the young Duke was next in line to the French throne.  So the prospect of a French Match had sent Elizabeth’s court into a state of turmoil. Leading the heated opposition were Puritans (right-wing Protestants) such as Sir Francis Walsingham, head of the Secret Service, and Sir Philip Sidney, not to mention Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, who had wanted to wed the Queen himself.  Many feared that if Elizabeth married Alencon, she might die without a successor by blood, leaving her widowed King Consort free to bring England under French control; and Walsingham, for one, predicted riots in London and around the country. It appears, however, that  Elizabeth was playing a role within a grand romantic drama on the world stage, playing her part in the prospective French Match to prevent an alliance between France and Spain – for as long as possible, at least, so England could build up naval strength capable of withstanding a Spanish invasion by armada.  Enticing Alencon into the courtship, the Queen was buying time.

Thomas Radcliffe, 3rd Earl of Sussex, was Chamberlain 1572 to his death in 1583

Thomas Radcliffe, 3rd Earl of Sussex, born circa 1525, was Lord Chamberlain from 1572 to his death in 1583

In the following year Oxford would publicly support the French marriage along with his great friend Thomas Radcliffe, Earl of Sussex, who was a kind of father figure to him.  (Oxford had seen military action under Sussex against the Northern Rebellion in 1570; also it was Sussex, as Lord Great Chamberlain, who brought plays to court.)  Also supporting the match was William Cecil Lord Burghley, the most powerful man behind the throne.  Burghley, Sussex and Oxford may have understood that it was all a charade, but Elizabeth would play her part so well that even they could not be sure of her intentions. In 1578, however, Oxford was still able to express his rage against the Alencon marriage, and his refusal to dance for the French envoys made that clear.  The day before, Elizabeth had publicly and unfairly reprimanded Sussex for failing to furnish enough “pieces of plate” for the Frenchmen, so Oxford was already angry at the Queen — who, he correctly believed, was being influenced against Sussex by Leicester. The Spanish ambassador reported that Elizabeth “sent twice to tell the Earl of Oxford, who is a very gallant lad, to dance before the ambassadors; whereupon he replied that he hoped Her Majesty would not order him to do so, as he did not wish to entertain Frenchmen.  When the Lord Steward took him the message the second time, he replied that he would not give pleasure to Frenchmen, nor listen to such a message, and with that he left the room.  He is a lad who has a great following in the country…”  It’s hard to imagine anyone daring to publicly embarrass the Queen in such a way – especially Queen Elizabeth, who was so protective of her public image – not to mention in front of the French ambassadors when critical negotiations were beginning.  How Oxford skated through this episode without being tossed in prison or worse is a wonder; but it seems he was not even reprimanded, indicating the favorable position he held in her eyes at the time.  In any case Edward de Vere vehemently opposed the Alencon marriage and, it appears, he wrote the first version of Cymbeline, King of Britaine, performed by none other than Sussex’s company of actors on Sunday, December 28, 1578, at Richmond Palace, where it was recorded as An history of the crueltie of A Stepmother. “Following up Oxford’s refusal to dance,” Eva Turner Clark wrote in 1930, “he wrote a new drama in which, disguised as a play of early Britain, he told the story of the French Queen’s efforts to get her son married to the English Queen … the arrival of the Spanish ambassador, and the danger of war with Spain and France over the Low Countries.” Dorothy and Charlton Ogburn described the relevant part of the play in 1952 this way: “A wicked Queen [Cymbeline’s wife = Catherine de Medici] endeavors to contrive a match between her stupid, villainous son [Cloten = Alencon] and the daughter [Imogen = Elizabeth, in part] of a king of ancient Britain [Cymbeline], whose stepmother she is, hoping to advance her cause of making her son King of Britain by the judicious use of poisonous herbs and compounds.  The prototype of this wicked Queen was Catherine de Medici, who, while practicing occultism and astrology, was supposed to have poisoned more than one person whom she wished out of the way.”

  Elizabeth I of England   Armada Portrait 1588

Elizabeth I of England
Armada Portrait 1588

Oxford was writing about his own political world and trying to influence Elizabeth and her policies.  Personally and politically he had much at stake; and with this in mind, the play we know as Cymbeline is suddenly comprehended in new and dynamic ways — providing just one answer to the question of why the identity of “Shakespeare” matters.   In this early work first staged at court, Oxford can be seen warning Elizabeth about the character of Catherine de Medici and her son, Alencon, as in the opening lines of a soliloquy within a play that would be revised at least twice (in the 1580s and 1590s) before its publication for the first time in the Folio of 1623: That such a crafty devil as is his mother Should yield the world this ass!  A woman that Bears all down with her brain; and this her son Cannot take two from twenty, for his heart, And leave eighteen… Once J.T. Looney identified Oxford as “Shakespeare” in 1920, it became possible to see Alencon in the plays.  A surge of new research began and the work of Eva Turner Clark appeared in the U.S. in 1931 as Hidden Allusions in Shakespeare’s Plays, wherein Ms. Clark noticed portraits of Alencon in early versions not only of Cymbeline but also As You Like It, Love’s Labour’s Lost, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, 2 Henry VI, Antony and Cleopatra and A Midsummer Night’s Dream — to be covered by the next Reason to believe Oxford was the great author. Catherine de Medici - 2(For a revisionist view of Catherine de Medici, see the biography by Leonie Frieda: “Poisoner, despot, necromancer — the dark legend of Catherine de Medici is centuries old. In this critically hailed biography, Frieda reclaims the story of this unjustly maligned queen to reveal a skilled ruler battling extraordinary political and personal odds — from a troubled childhood in Florence to her marriage to Henry, son of King Francis I of France; from her transformation of French culture to her fight to protect her throne and her sons’ birthright. Based on thousands of private letters, it is a remarkable account of one of the most influential women ever to wear a crown.”)

%d bloggers like this: