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.”)

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13 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Whittemore, I have made my own blog in portuguese about the Shakespeare Authorship Question in a PT Theoryist’s vision. In this blog, I will explore the poems and the plays following your logic, the authorship of Donne in Spenser’s and Nashe’s works and my own theory of Bacon begint he author of Barnfield’s works. I already mencioned your Monument and I came here to ask you if you mind if I use the chronology of sonnets from your site and modify it a little (like making translations of the verses you cited and giving my own opinion of the sonnets, one by one, following you time chronology)?

    • Absolutely, Francisco — I am thrilled to know you’ve made a blog and please use whatever you need. Sandy and I will have to study Portuguese:-) Seriously, this is wonderful news. I know you have acquired much knowledge and have an extraordinarily sensitive intuition to make sense of it. If I can be of any help, just ask. Meanwhile, congratulations.

      • Thanks, Whittemore, for everything 😀

  2. Outstanding commentary, Hank. Next week I am speaking at a forum in Ashland on the evidence Alencon and Elizabeth were mockingly allegorized as Bottom and Titania in Dream. OSF is performing Cymbeline & Dream this season, so this approach is particularly hot!

    • Dear Earl, have a great time at the forum in Ashland! I can only wish I could be there. This is a great new time for our work and it’s wonderful that you’ve made the opportunities for outreach. This is all new groundbreaking material for most of your audiences — what a treat, which they undoubtedly realize. If you have time, give us a brief report! Best from Hank and readers of this blog.

  3. Hi Mr. Hank!

    Thomas Fisher’s device for the MND first quarto is a play on Alençon. The Alcione = Duke of Alençon. Futher, the Kingfisher (Halcyon=Alcione) is flying from France to England holding a crocodile with a crowned tail. The crocodile represents “forged guile” as per Edmund Spenser’s *Faerie Queene*. England shows a marigold [marry gold] radiating from behind a fortress of rocks.

    The printer’s device was usually a rebus of his name. However, Fisher’s device seems a little over-blown to be merely such a rebus.


  4. Just hours after responding you, Whittemore, and I already need your help. I said once “Lucrece” was about Southampton and Trentham but I start to get my doubts again after reading in The Poems by William Shakespare of The New Cambridge Shakespeare that “Lucrece” is all a work inspired in policies. You said once Lucrece was Elizabeth. Can you give your evidences? Was the rape allegoric and Tarquin someone who by 1594 wanted to destroy the Tudor Dinasty, liek Robert Cecil or Lord Burghley?

    • Beauclerk writes, “That Lucrece, like Venus, is intended on the level of political myth to stand for Elizabeth is confirmed by these lines in Henry Chettle’s poem ‘England’s Mourning Garment,’ written on the death of the queen in 1603: “Shepherd, remember our Elizabeth,/ And sing her Rape, done by that Tarquin, Death.” How close Chettle came to high treason:-)

      Who is Tarquin? Seymour? Oxford? Both?

      Lucrece is the Diana side of the Venus-Diana dual image of the queen. There is an assumption that she is somewhat complicit in the rape; an assumption that she has been impregnated — an impossible thing to know, in the context of the poem’s time frame, but nonetheless a child in her womb, and she kills it when she kills herself. The poem’s story is ultimately the ruination of the state.

      In Willobie his Avisa, we see “Yet Targquin plucked his glistering grape,/ And Shake-speare paints poor Lucrece’s rape.”

      And in Willobie again, a few stanzas later, “Let Lucrece-Avis be thy name,/ This English Eagle soars alone,/ And far surmounts all others’ fame,/ Where high or low, where great or small,/ This Britain Bird out-flies them all.”

      It is up to us to supply meaning that makes sense within our contexts. We need Beauclerk’s work, and David Gontar has a good take, and De Luna, etc.

      In the section where those lines above appear, it ends with “Sweet Willobie his AVIS blest,/ That makes her mount above the rest.” — It reminds me of Oxford’s poem to the queen, “Above the rest in court who gave thee grace?” (he asks himself, rhetorically, with the answer being Elizabeth).

      Now we must connect it to Southampton and discern some message to him. If Venus is the story of Southampton’s own birth, is Lucrece a continuation of the same? Along with a description of Seymour “raping” Elizabeth (I don’t think it was actually rape) and producing a pregnancy with a child, Oxford, whom she “kills” by turning him from a king into a poet-playwright who influses kings on stage with his spirit? Is it a description of Oxford’s side of the story of Southampton’s birth? Is he warning in 1594 that the dynasty is in jeopardy?

      We shall continue….

      • Good answer. But the hiding of Oxford’s royal blood is well framed in Venus and Adonis. Adonis is killed by a boar and the boar was Oxford’s blazon animal. I think his death is methaphoric. It’s a methaphor to when he was hiding from the world as Prince of England.

        Now let’s forget about Willobie his Avisa. Just Lucrece. When you refered to Seymour as Tarquin, I already though that. But the affair between them wass cleary not forced. You said Lucrece may be complice of her her own rape and the raper acuses his victim’s beauty for began all that tragedy.

        Some says Lucrece is the anthisis of Vennus and Adonis. Like you said, the venus and Diana dual. In the first poem, Elizabeth is acussed of raping her son Oxford and in Lucrece, Oxford rapes his own mother…

        Who could have been the raper? The son or the father? I think it was Oxford, afterall, they both princes and etc etc etc…

  5. We forgot one thing, Whittemore: the Trojan War scene in “Lucrece”. Probably the same scene painted in Italy, La Sala di Troia. I think the Trojan War indicate the true meaning of the poem and that why is there.

    The scene shows us a burning Troy and Lucrece makes an analysis of the painting. With her nails, she destroys Helen by blaming her of er own rape and Troy’s ruin and she asks why do one’s pleasure and lust must be the death of many. I think Lucrece sees herself in Helen and she is blaming no one but herself then of her own rape (remember Helen is Elizabeth in Sonnet 53). She talks on Achilles shaking his spear (I think it’s a reference to Oxford as the true Shakespeare), on Sinon (cleary Tarquin, for both entered in one’s house and cause it’s ruin), Paris (the lustful verison of Oxford), Priam (the male version of Elizabeth-Lucrece), Hecuba (the queen and second female version of Elizabeth and Lucrece) etc…

    I think I already find the true meaning of the poem: Lucrece (Elizabeth) and Tarquin (Oxford) had sex (the rape is just fixing the anthisis of “Venus and Adonis” and is just respecting the true legend of Lucrece; don’t forget we had censure in this time and Lucrece could well be identified as Elizabeth anyone if there wasn’t the rape scene). After the rape, Lucrece (Elizabeth) sees a Trojan War scene and remember hwo two lovers’ lust cause the fall of a city and so will happen. It is not told, but Lucrece can be pregnant because if the Sala di Troia is the true inspiration for this scene, don’t forget the paralelism not only with the Lucrece of Tician but with the Hecuba scene form the Sala, where Hecuba is sleeping and a demon with a torch threats her. This demon seems to be a sexual one and the torch he brings is an allusion for the nightmare were Hecuba dreamt she would gave birth to a torch burning Troy (Paris). The way Hecuba is seems like to Lucrece (look to the painting Collatine (Leicester, Oxford’s longtime rival), Lucrece’s husband, Lucretius (Burghley, because he was always like a father to Elizabeth), Lucrece’s father, hear Lucrece’s confessions of her rape and then she kill herself. Collatine and Lucretius claim Brutus (maybe Cecil or James Stuart) to conspire against Tarquin and banish him (the most curious is that the poem doesn’t refer to the end of the monarchy but to the end of Tarquin).

    What Oxford wants to say with Lucrece? Elizabeth must be warming of those how want her bad! By trusting to her husband and father her rape (i.e by trusting to Leicester and Burghley she is pregnant of Oxford), she shouldn’t do that because they will cause the end of Tarquin and, with him, his royal house (i.e the Tudor Dinasty).

    • *must be warning of those how want her fall

    • This sounds good Francisco. I need to study it more. Overall it’s safe to say that Oxford was concerned about the survival of the dynasty and, thereby, the survival of England as they knew it. I believe he was an idealist, based on those medieval values of honor and loyalty, and courage and truth, etc., and 1594 was a time of crossroads. Southampton was rejecting a marriage alliance that had probably been put into place back in 1581, when Oxford negotiated with Burghley about the terms of his return to Anne (and resolve to try to beget an heir to the Oxford earldom) and of bringing the boy Southampton to London as a ward of the queen in Burghley’s care. Now Southampton was turning his back on that arrangement. I think the so-called marriage sonnets were a way of telling him about his royal blood and duty to the state. His rejection of the alliance was causing Burghley to back away, and the Queen to turn her back as well — leaving Oxford alone to support him, so he became “Shakespeare” in public dedications to him, in poetry that we are trying to comprehend. Good work, so far.

      • When to Willobie his Avisa, it could have been about Elizabeth I. Maybe the author was mixing Trentham with Elizabeth. But that still strange… let’s put out Willobie and investigate it later…

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