“Shakespeare and the Problem of Biography” – Historic Conference at the Folger Library – Does it Signal that the Current Paradigm is in Trouble?

Dozens of Shakespeare scholars and students will be in Washington, D.C., at the Folger Shakespeare Library this week for a two-day series of lectures that may come to be seen as truly historic. The topic of the conference, after all, is Shakespeare and the Problem of Biography

Did we know that the orthodox community has acknowledged a “problem” in the first place? The Folger’s online blurb calls the conference a “rigorous investigation of the multiple – and conflicted – roles biography plays in the reception of Shakespeare today.”

The Folger Shakespeare Library - Washington, D.C.

The Folger Shakespeare Library – Washington, D.C.

Some one hundred and forty persons have reserved seats to attend the lectures, to be held inside the Folger’s Tudor-style theater; and at this point enrollments are closed. The collaborative research conference, funded by the National Endowment for Humanities (NEH), will begin Thursday evening with Brian Cummings, Anniversary Professor of English at the University of York, delivering Shakespeare’s Birthday Lecture 2014, entitled Shakespeare, Biography and Anti-Biography.

According to the overview of his talk, “The biography of Shakespeare is a paradox. Is he our greatest author precisely because we know so little about him, and his life remains a mystery? Shakespeare is at once a figure of cultural saturation and an indefinable enigma,” the overview continues. “We see him everywhere, yet we keep on looking for more … Do we feel our lack of knowledge so painfully because it relates to a figure we care so much about?”

Folger Theatre

Folger Theatre

Professor Cummings will discuss “the problem of writing the life of Shakespeare in terms of documentary history and its haunting sense of missing links,” suggesting that perhaps “the reading of a writer creates a life of its own, somewhere between writer and reader, in the mystery that constitutes the act of literature.”

This may be an unspoken acknowledgment that life inside the paradigm of tradition is becoming increasingly uncomfortable. My only comment right now is that, in my view, escaping this purgatory will require its inhabitants to step outside the current paradigm. Only then will it be possible to look around to see what’s in the new landscape.

A conference schedule posted in December (but which I can no longer find at the Folger website) states that the goal is to pursue “a fresh critical evaluation of the aims and methods of literary biography.” An acknowledged problem is that “textual analysis” within the academic establishment “often denies biography and explanatory force, while popular conceptions of Shakespeare look to biography precisely for insight into the works. In the standoff, the genre of literary biography is lost as a subject of serious inquiry.”

Edward de Vere 17th Earl of Oxford

Edward de Vere
17th Earl of Oxford

Here we might discern some pressure from those of us who view Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford as the true author – pressure to find new ways of using the Stratford paradigm to gain explanations and insights. We can predict some interesting attempts in the coming years to achieve such results – for example, attempts to bring in more writers with whom Shakespeare allegedly “collaborated” on his plays. When the real-life stories of these writers are added to the wholly inadequate life of William Shaksper, think of the possibilities for more and different “traditional” biography!

“A cadre of influential scholars, many of whom have written biographies of Shakespeare, will focus discussion” on topics such as:

• The distinctions between authorship and agency
• The interpretations of documentary evidence
• The impact of methods of dating texts on an understanding of Shakespeare’s life
• The broadened context for that life of a more robust understanding of theatrical activity
• The possibility that biography is itself a form of historical fiction

All this is certainly interesting for anyone involved in the authorship question, and we owe thanks to the NEH and the Folger Shakespeare Library for holding the conference. In my view, however, these lectures signal that the current biographical paradigm is beginning to fall apart – whether or not the participants realize or acknowledge it.

Within the current paradigm there are too many anomalies – things that don’t make sense — too many holes. I believe that, without anyone saying it aloud, we are moving away from the orthodox view and into a turbulent but healthy (and long overdue) middle period of chaos, argument, confusion and shifting views — to continue for probably a long time until a new paradigm is finally adopted.

On Friday there will be talks on:

The Genre of Literary Biography
(Lawrence Goldman, Professor of History at the University of Oxford; and Ian Donaldson, Emeritus Professor of Culture and Communication at the University of Melbourne)
The History of Biographies of Shakespeare
(Jack Lynch, Acting Senior Associate Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Rutgers University; and Joseph Roach, Sterling Professor of Theatre and English at Yale University)

Graham Holderness

Graham Holderness

Rethinking the Documentary Evidence
(Graham Holderness, Professor of English at the University of Hertfordshire, speaking on “Everyone and No-one: Fact, Tradition, and Invention in Shakespeare Biography”; and Lena Crown Orlin, Professor of English at Georgetown University)

Stephen Greenblatt

Stephen Greenblatt

On Saturday there will be talks on:

Biography, Theater, History
(Lois Potter, Emerita Ned B. Allen Professor of English at the University of Delaware; and Margeta de Grazia, Emerita Sheli Z. and Burton X. Rosenberg Professor of the Humanities at the University of Pennsylvania)
Who Are We Looking For? (Portraiture)
(Tarnya Cooper, Curator of Sixteenth Century Collections, National Portrait Gallery; and Julia Reinhard Lupton, Professor of English and Interim Chair at the University of California, Irvine)
What Do We Expect of the Author?
(John Drakakis, Professor of Literature and Language at the University of Stirling; and William H. Sherman, Professor of English at the University of York)

Katherine Duncan-Jones

Katherine Duncan-Jones

Where Are We Now?
(Katherine Duncan-Jones, Professor of English at the University of Oxford, with a talk entitled “Full Circle: Biography and Literature”; and Stephen Greenblatt, John Cogan University Professor of the Humanities at Harvard University, and author of Will in the World (2004), whose topic is “Stories about the Dead”)

I’ll report back any answers to “Where are we now?”

But just to have the question put forth in this setting is, as mentioned, truly historic.

Part Three of Reason 91 Why Edward de Vere was Shakespeare: The Stubborn Bear of Authority in “The Winter’s Tale”

When twenty-six-year-old Edward de Vere returned to England from his Continental journey in April 1576, he angrily separated from his wife Anne Cecil, believing she had been unfaithful to him. Less than a year before, while he was in Italy, the young Countess of Oxford had given birth to a girl, Elizabeth Vere, but the earl refused to acknowledge his paternity and remained apart from both his wife and the child for the ensuing five years.

During this separation, Catherine (Kate) Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk wrote in December 1577 to Oxford’s father-in-law William Cecil, Lord Burghley, about a scheme she had hatched with the earl’s sister, Mary Vere, who was engaged to her son Peregrine Bertie, Lord Willoughby. The plan was to trick Oxford into finally laying eyes on his little daughter. Reporting on their conversation, the Duchess wrote to Cecil that Mary told her Oxford “would very fain (gladly) see the child [but] is loath to send for her.”

Kate Willoughby Duchess of Suffolk  1519 - 1580

Kate Willoughby
Duchess of Suffolk
1519 – 1580

“Then,” the Duchess told Mary, “you will keep my counsel [and] we will have some sport with him. I will see if I can get the child hither to me, when you shall come hither, and whilst my Lord your brother is with you I will bring in the child as though it were some other of my friends’, and we shall see how Nature will work in him to like it, and tell him it is his own after.’”

There’s no record of whether Catherine’s scheme was put into effect, but The Winter’s Tale contains a scene that’s a veritable carbon copy of this otherwise private episode. The plot centers on the extreme jealousy of Leontes, King of Sicilia, who is convinced that Queen Hermione has been unfaithful to him, and he has her arrested. While in prison she gives birth to a daughter, but Leontes refuses to accept paternity, believing the father to be his friend Polixenes, King of Bohemia.

Enter the Lady Paulina, who, in reflection of what the Duchess of Suffolk did, schemes to bring the infant girl to the King in the belief that the sight of the innocent babe will bring him to his senses. At the prison she addresses Emilia, attending Queen Hermione:

Pray you, Emilia,
Commend my best obedience to the Queen:
If she dares trust me with her little babe,
I’ll show it to the King, and undertake to be
Her advocate to the loudest. We do not know
How he may soften at the sight of the child:
The silence often of pure innocence
Persuades, when speaking fails.

Execution of Mary Stuart Queen of Scots  February 8, 1587

Execution of Mary Stuart
Queen of Scots
February 8, 1587

When Edward de Vere is viewed as the author, there can be little doubt that he was castigating himself for having accused his own wife of infidelity – portraying, through Leontes, his own irrational jealousy and hurtful behavior. Dorothy and Charlton Ogburn express their belief in This Star of England (1952), however, that Oxford began to write The Winter’s Tale during or after the trial of Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots in October 1586, when he sat at the head of the tribunal that found her guilty of treason and sentenced her to death. They feel this event profoundly affected him, not only “exciting his compassion but also tormenting his conscience” over having to cast his vote along with the others – regardless of whether or not he thought she was guilty.

Oxford had fought to save his cousin Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk, who was convicted in January 1572 of participating with Philip II of Spain (in the Ridolfi plot) to put Mary on the throne in place of Elizabeth and restore Catholicism in England. The execution of Norfolk on June 2, 1572 at Tower Hill represented Burghley’s triumph over the old feudal nobility as well as his tightening hold over the Queen. Now some fourteen years later Oxford was forced to join the peers in once again carrying out Cecil’s designs, this time sealing the destruction of Mary Stuart.

“In the performance of his duty – his prime duty to his sovereign, to which honor and the oath of allegiance compelled him – he had been obliged to violate the dictates of his heart, as well as a still deeper code of humanity and of manhood,” the Ogburns write, “whereupon he turned upon himself in a savage mood and created the preposterous Leontes in what he conceived to be his own image. For Leontes, while also a symbol of entrenched if not tyrannical power, is of course largely Oxford again, but Oxford in a moment of revulsion, scorning himself for his own iniquities.”

As the Ogburns see it, Oxford was “willing to pillory himself” and have it seem he was simply portraying his own former jealousy and personal tyranny, when in fact Leontes also represents English authority in the person of Burghley and the English peers (including himself) who participated in the legalistic formality of a unanimous verdict that was a foregone conclusion. So in the play Leontes accuses Hermoine not only of adultery but also of conspiring with Polixenes to murder him – reflecting the accusation by Elizabeth (and Burghley) that Mary Stuart was plotting to kill her.

Leontes declares his own baby girl a bastard and orders Paulina’s husband Antigonous to take the child “to some remote and desert place” and leave it there at the mercy of the elements. After Hermione is presumed dead, Antigonous names his tiny charge Perdita and abandons her on the stormy coast of Bohemia with his own “character” or written account of what happened. In other words, Antigonous is a writer who has set down the truth and left it for posterity; but in the next moment he sees some hideous beast coming toward him and yells to himself that he must get back to the ship.

exit pursued by a bear

“This is the chase! I am gone for ever!” he cries, running off, and the playwright adds his famous stage direction: “Exit, pursued by a bear.”

A Shepherd arrives, then a Clown, who tells him how the bear caught up to the man and “tore out his shoulder-bone.” The man “cried to me for help and said his name was Antigonous, a nobleman.” So this truth-telling nobleman-writer has been torn apart by the bear. He “roared and the bear mocked him,” the Clown says, adding the beast has “half dined” on him and is still “at it now.” Later the Clown reveals that “authority be a stubborn bear” – that is, the bear is allegorically the figure of authority or officialdom, which has silenced the nobleman-writer.

Edward de Vere can be seen now as depicting himself briefly as the truth-telling nobleman who refers to himself in Antigonous’s exit line: “I am gone for ever!” – the way Oxford alluded to his own name, E. Ver, in earlier verses with lines such as, “Who was the first that gave the wound whose fear I wear for ever?” and the echo’s response: “Vere.”

Why write I still all one, ever the same…
That every word doth almost tell my name? – Sonnet 76

If Oxford uses Antigonous here to stand for himself, the nobleman-author, might it be that the baby Perdita in this scene represents the earl’s plays? Has “authority” directed Oxford to abandon any claim to his writings? “Weep I cannot, but my heart bleeds,” Antigonous cries as he sets down “this poor wretch” in the wilderness, adding that “most accursed am I to be by oath enjoined to this.”

Has officialdom or the stubborn bear of authority, in the form of Queen Elizabeth and Lord Burghley, imposed an oath of secrecy upon Oxford?

If so, he would have taken such an oath when, on June 25, 1586, four months before Mary Stuart’s treason trial, Elizabeth had signed a Privy Seal Warrant for a grant to Oxford of one thousand pounds, an extraordinary sum to be paid to him annually by the Exchequer. [My own belief is that Oxford had been selling his land and spending his own money on his play companies and to support the writers under his patronage, so that now he was being repaid.] The warrant gave no hint of the reason for the grant and expressly stated, in the Queen’s own words, that the earl was exempt from accounting for its expenditure.

But in return, was Oxford now being mauled and slowly devoured by authority, the stubborn bear?

And art made tongue-tied by authority – Sonnet 66

Mary, Queen of Scots was executed by beheading on February 8, 1587.

Oxford had returned to Anne by Christmas, 1581; she died on June 8, 1588, having given birth to three surviving children, all daughters.

The Spanish armada arrived later in the summer of 1588, but failed to land on English soil much less to conquer England.

In the next five years most of the writers under Oxford’s patronage would be gone — Lyly out of a job; Kyd dying after being tortured on the rack; Marlowe killed; Greene dying; Watson dying; Lodge leaving England, and so on.

By 1590 Oxford had retired from the royal court, becoming a virtual recluse; he remarried by early 1592 and his second wife, the Maid of Honor Elizabeth Trentham, gave birth to a son in Feburary 1593, naming him Henry de Vere, the future eighteenth Earl of Oxford – the first Henry of the more than 500-year-old Vere lineage.

“Shakespeare” abruptly appeared in print for the first time later in 1593, on the dedication of Venus and Adonis to Henry Wriothseley, third Earl of Southampton.

On May 22, 1594, Edward White registered a play entitled A Winter’s Night Pastime for publication, which the editor Edmund Malone understood to be The Winter’s Tale . In November of 1611 came a notation in the Revels Accounts of a performance of The Winter Night’s Tale at the James court. Clearly the earliest version of The Winter’s Tale as by “Shakespeare,” first printed in the Folio of 1623, had been written much earlier.

Part Two of Reason 91 that Edward de Vere was “Shakespeare”: The Trial of Mary Queen of Scots is Echoed at Queen Hermione’s Trial in “The Winter’s Tale”

In September 1586, after being arrested for sanctioning an attempted assassination of Elizabeth I of England, the long-held captive Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots was brought to Fortheringhay Castle, where this proud Catholic monarch would be put on trial for high treason. At 9 a.m. on October 15th, Mary entered the room directly above the Great Hall — left alone to defend herself before a tribunal of thirty-six noblemen, each of whom was expected to vote guilty and then vote to sentence her to death.

Contemporary Sketch  Mary Stuart Trial (Click for Larger View)

Contemporary Sketch
Mary Stuart Trial
(Click for Larger View)

At the head of the row of peers was Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford, hereditary Lord Great Chamberlain of England. Now in his thirty-seventh year, he had arrived at a front-row seat for the most dramatic and emotionally wrenching treason trial of the Elizabethan reign. [Transcripts of State Trials.] And once Oxford is viewed as writing an early version of The Winter’s Tale soon afterward, the scene of Queen Hermione’s treason trial becomes his own daring cry of compassion for Mary Stuart — not to mention his equally dangerous protest against governmental authority in the form of William Cecil, Lord Burghley, his father-in-law, who was determined to destroy the Queen of Scots and be rid of the continual plots centered around her.

The similarities of the historical and fictional trials are striking; and one, in particular, would seems to comprise convincing evidence that Edward de Vere wrote the “Shakespeare” play. This resemblance involves the use of the phrase “great grief,” which Oxford heard spoken by the Lord Chancellor as he opened the proceedings against Mary: “The most high and mighty Queen Elizabeth, being not without great grief of mind, being advertised that you have conspired the Destruction of her and of England…”

And at the top of Act Three Scene Two of The Winter’s Tale, when King Leontes opens the treason trial of his wife Hermione, he uses the same phrase: “This sessions, to our great grief we pronounce, even pushes ‘gainst our heart…”

Mary Stuart 1542 - 1587

Mary Stuart
1542 – 1587

The phrase “great grief” by itself would have gained Oxford’s attention – not just for its alliteration, but also because he himself seemed personally fond of “grief” (or “griefs”), having employed the word in several of his verses in The Paradise of Dainty Devices, first printed a decade earlier: “The only loss of my good name is of these griefs the ground (ending each of three stanzas) … Uncomely love, which now lurks in my breast,/ Should cease my grief … Bewray thy grief, thou woeful heart with speed … I, Hannibal, that smile for grief … ”

Secondly it would seem no accident that “great grief” is used at the very opening of Mary Stuart’s trial and also at the opening of Hermione’s trial, both uttered in the same emotionally charged atmosphere and within the same context. And when “great grief” is heard ten days later in the historical episode, it’s used unforgettably by the Queen of England herself. With her second cousin Mary Stuart having been pronounced guilty and sentenced to die, Elizabeth addressed the peers (including Oxford) in the Star Chamber at Westminster, telling them they “have brought me to a narrow strait, that I must give order for her death, a princess most nearly allied unto me in blood, and whose practices against me have stricken me into so great grief …”

Most speakers uttering “great grief” will automatically lay stress upon those two words; and in both instances of the phrase spoken during Mary Stuart’s ordeal, Oxford most certainly heard it ringing in his ears – so its utterance by King Leontes at the opening of Hermoine’s trial in The Winter’s Tale becomes a small but potentially potent piece of evidence that Edward de Vere was the author. But there are other strong similarities (of tone or attitude, as well as arguments) between the speeches at the historical and fictional treason trials, such as the following examples:

Trial of Mary Stuart Queen of Scots

Trial of Mary Stuart
Queen of Scots

“I am an absolute queen, and will do nothing which may prejudice either mine own royal majesty, or other princes of my place and rank, or my son … I am a queen by right of birth and have been consort of a king of France; my place should be there, under the dias … I am the daughter of James V, King of Scotland, and grand-daughter of Henry VII …”

“She answered that she was no subject, and rather would she die a thousand deaths than acknowledge herself a subject, considering, that by such an acknowledgment she should both prejudice the height of regal majesty, and withal confess herself to be bound by all the laws of England, even in the matter of religion.”

For behold me,
A fellow of the royal bed, which owe
A moiety of the throne, a great king’s daughter,
The mother to a hopeful prince, here standing
To prate and talk for life and honor ‘fore
Who please to come and hear.

“Alas! Here are many counselors, but not one for me! … I am destitute of counselors, and who shall be my peers I am utterly ignorant!”

“Nevertheless she was ready to answer to all things in a free and full parliament, for that she knew not whether this meeting and assembly were appointed against her, being already condemned by fore-judging, to give some show and color of a just and legal proceeding.”

[This] is more than history can pattern, though devised
And played to take spectators…

“She warned them therefore to look to their consciences …”

I appeal
To your own conscience …

Mary Stuart Portrait

Mary Stuart Portrait

“My Papers and Notes are taken from me, and no man dareth step forth to be my advocate … To the judgment of mine adversaries, amongst whom I know all defense of mine innocence will be barred flatly, I will not submit myself.”

Since what I am to say must be but that
Which contradicts my accusation, and
The testimony on my part no other
But what comes from myself, it shall scarce boot me
To say ‘Not guilty.’ Mine integrity,
Being counted falsehood, shall, as I express it,
Be so received. But thus, if powers divine
Behold our human actions (as they do),
I doubt not then but innocence shall make
False accusation blush, and tyranny
Tremble at patience…

“For we princes are set as it were upon stages, in the sight and view of all the world … It behooves us therefore to be careful that our proceedings be just and honorable.”

Let us be cleared
Of being tyrannous, since we so openly
Proceed in justice, which shall have due course,
Even to the guilt or the purgation.

Now, my liege,
Tell me what blessings I have here alive,
That I should fear to die? Therefore proceed.
But yet hear this: mistake me not: no life,
I prize it not a straw, but for mine honor,
Which I would free: if I shall be condemned
Upon surmises, all proofs sleeping else
But what your jealousies awake, I tell you
‘Tis rigor and not law…

The Emperor of Russia was my father:
O that he were alive, and here beholding
His daughter’s trial! That he did but see
The flatness of my misery, yet with eyes
Of pity, not revenge!

Oxford’s sympathetic portrait of Mary Stuart may well have prevented any public performance of The Winter’s Tale until after Elizabeth’s death and the succession of Mary’s son, James Stuart, King of Scotland, as James I of England. On the other hand, Michael Delahoyde notes Isaac Asimov’s suggestion that “the original audience might have experienced a sense of ‘familiarity’ with the trial scene,” in that Henry VIII tried Anne Boleyn after flying into an irrational fit of jealousy the way King Leontes loses all rationality in the play. If so, Oxford could have covered himself by telling Elizabeth he was really writing about the unfair trial of her own mother…

When academia begins to take the Shakespeare authorship question more seriously, comparisons between life and art will be studied in much greater depth. For students of the near and distant future, there’s much work to be done!

(To be continued — and concluded — with Part Three)

Number 91 of 100 Reasons Why Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford Wrote the Poems, Plays and Sonnets of William Shakespeare — “The Winter’s Tale” – Part One

Traditional Shakespeare scholarship offers many examples of what happens when a literary or dramatic work is viewed with the wrong author in mind. Using an incorrect biography as a guide is equivalent to following the wrong road map. As Richard M. Waugaman, M.D. has reminded us with a different metaphor: “A skier starting off from the top of the mountain in a slightly different direction ends up at a very different place at the bottom.” And a scholar starting off with a faulty authorship premise inevitably runs into an ever-expanding muddle of speculations.

winter's tale 1890

In the case of The Winter’s Tale, printed initially in the First Folio of 1623, viewing the play as by William Shaksper of Stratford has led many scholars to conclude it was written in 1611. Edmund Malone (1741-1812) believed that an otherwise unknown play A Winter Night’s Pastime, registered in 1594, represents an earlier attempt to print the Shakespeare play; but the later date of composition is usually cited.

An example of following the wrong road map is Stephen Greenblatt’s suggestion at the end of Will in the World (2004) that Shakspere decided by 1610 or so to “enact a final, fantastic theatrical experiment” — which had nothing to do with acting or writing, but, rather, with taking on “the everyday life of a country gentleman.” He would “return to the place from which he had come,” perhaps drawn home by a motive that “seems to lie in plain sight” within what are assumed to be among his final plays.

This motive involved a woman twenty years younger than he, the woman “who most intensely appealed to Shakespeare” during his entire lifetime — none other than his daughter Susanna!

Perdita Daughter of King Leontes & Queen Hermoine (Henrietta L. Palmer, 1859)

Daughter of King Leontes & Queen Hermoine
(Henrietta L. Palmer, 1859)

“It cannot be an accident,” Greenblatt writes, “that three of his last plays – Pericles, The Winter’s Tale and The Tempest – are centered on the father-daughter relationship and are so deeply anxious about incestuous desires.” What the author really wanted was “the pleasure of living near his daughter and her husband and their child,” even though this pleasure had “a strange, slightly melancholy dimension, a joy intimately braided together with renunciation.”

So here is a leading orthodox scholar trying to link up the author’s work with his life (an implicit acknowledgment that literary biography is useful), but doing so by using pure invention. Well, yes, Shaksper did spend his final years in Stratford, but was he really obsessed with gnawing “incestuous desires” toward his daughter? And does this really help us understand those three plays? I’d say we’re following the wrong road in the wrong territory and about to drive off the proverbial cliff…

On the other hand, another reason to conclude that Edward de Vere was “Shakespeare” is that his authorship places the initial writing of The Winter’s Tale all the way back (by a quarter century) to 1584-1586 and opens up a wealth of far more plausible motives and connections, based on key circumstances or events such as:

• His jealous rage at his wife Anne Cecil and rejection of the girl Elizabeth Vere, who was born in 1575 while the earl was on the Continent – mirrored in the play by the jealous rage of King Leontes against his wife Hermoine, plus his order that her newborn infant girl, Perdita, be burned alive.

Elizabeth de Vere, Daughter of Edward de Vere and Anne Cecil, born in 1575  (Countess of Derby as of 1595)

Elizabeth de Vere, Daughter of Edward de Vere and Anne Cecil, born in 1575
(Countess of Derby as of 1595)

• The Duchess of Suffolk’s scheme in 1577 to trick Oxford into seeing two-year-old Elizabeth Vere without revealing the girl’s identity at first – as Lady Paulina tries to trick Leontes.

• The rise at Court of Sir Walter Raleigh and his expeditions in the 1580s to the New World, including the colonization of Virginia, named in honor of Queen Elizabeth – as indicated by repeated allusions in the play to Raleigh and his affairs.

• The treason trial of Mary, Queen of Scots in October 1586, when Oxford sat at the head of the row of peers on the tribunal — as mirrored by the treason trial of Hermione.

Then, too, viewing Oxford as the playwright lends personal links to the sources, for example:

Statue of Hermoine William Hamilton, R. A. Robert Thew, Engraving

Statue of Hermoine
William Hamilton, R. A.
Robert Thew, Engraving

• The miracle of a statue coming to life in The Winter’s Tale is to be found in the story of Pygmalion and Galatea in Ovid’s Metamorphoses – leading us back to the 1567 translation used by “Shakespeare” and credited to Oxford’s uncle Arthur Golding, but more likely translated by the young earl himself (starting when he became a royal ward in the 1560s, living under the same roof with Golding at Cecil House).


• The source of the main plot of The Winter’s Tale is commonly regarded as the novel Pandosto, or the Triumph of Time by Robert Greene, first printed in 1588; but once again we are led straight to Edward de Vere, who had been that writer’s patron from at least 1580 and so had firsthand knowledge of the novel well before its publication. (Some researchers believe Oxford had used “Robert Greene” as a pen name and had written Pandosto himself.)

• The traditional author’s biography has made it impossible for “Shakespeare” to read Greek dramas in their original language, but Oxford had the ability to read them — for example, Euripedes’ Alcestis, which, as Earl Showerman has shown, provides much more emotional depth of the kind created in The Winter’s Tale.

The entrance of Edward de Vere as author has also overturned some oft-repeated misstatements about the “ignorance” of Shakespeare and his “mistakes,” such as:

• Near the end of The Winter’s Tale the statue of Hermione is described as “a piece many years in doing and now newly performed by that rare Italian master, Julio Romano, who, had he himself eternity and could put breath into his work, would beguile Nature of her custom, so perfectly he is her ape: he so near to Hermoine hath done Hermione, that they say one would speak to her and stand in hope of answer.”

Titian Portrait of Guilio Romano, c/ 1536

Titian Portrait of Guilio Romano, c/ 1536

For a long time scholars believed that Romano was a painter, not also a sculptor, but Oxford had traveled through northern Italy and could not have avoided seeing Romano’s work in Mantua. The earl would have known that Romano was famed for statues that he constructed out of powdered marble and painted to be extraordinarily lifelike. (The Wikipedia page for Guilio Romano still asserts that he was not a sculptor.)

• Act Three, Scene Three opens with Antigonous saying to a mariner, “Thou art perfect, then, our ship hath touched upon the deserts of Bohemia?” Although Ben Jonson and subsequent critics accused Shakespeare of being unaware that Bohemia was landlocked, Oxford spent several months in Venice and, eager to learn the history of the region, would have found out that in the thirteenth century the King of Bohemia had ruled territories stretching to the Adriatic Sea – making it possible, in fact, for someone to sail from Sicily to Bohemia.

Part Two of Reason No. 91 will take a closer look at links between Oxford’s life and The Winter’s Tale.

A Timeline of Events in the Life of Henry Wriothesley, second Earl of Southampton (1545 – 1581): Was he the Real Father of the “Goodly Boy” Born on Oct. 6, 1573?

Here is a Timeline of significant events in the life of Henry Wriothesley, second Earl of Southampton (1545 – 1581), mostly in relation to his imprisonment for 18 months in the Tower of London ending on May 1, 1573. A question is whether the earl had any visits in the Tower with his wife; that is, was the “goodly boy” born Oct 6, 1573 conceived after such a visit in January 1573, or, instead, was some other man the actual father? Some of the letters mentioned in this Timeline were obtained courtesy of Christopher Paul. At some point I’ll try to put up full texts of the letters.

2ND Earl of Southampton
1545 – 1581

April 24. 1545 – Thomas Wriothesley’s son Henry Wriothesley, future second Earl of Southampton, is christened “Henry” in honor of King Henry VIII.

November 1, 1545 – Thomas Wriothesley’s daughter Elizabeth Wriothsley marries Thomas Radcliffe, third Earl of Sussex (who will become a father figure to Edward de Vere). She will die in 1554.

February 16, 1547 – Thomas Wriothsley is one of the executors of King Henry’s will; and in accordance with the dead king’s wishes he is created Earl of Southampton, first of the new creation. He is relieved of his duties as Lord Chancellor.
April 12, 1550 – Edward de Vere, the future 17th Earl of Oxford, is born at Castle Hedingham in Essex (unless the official record is incorrect).

July 30, 1550 – Thomas Wriothesley, first Earl of Southampton of this creation, dies at nearly forty-five; and his son Henry Wriothesley, age five, becomes second Earl of Southampton. He passes into the custody of the royal Master of Wards. His mother, the widowed Countess of Southampton, is a devout Roman Catholic; and during the five years under Queen Mary [1553-1558], she will raise the boy as a Catholic. His country seat at Titchfield will become a bastion of Catholicism.

November 1558 – Elizabeth Tudor, twenty-five, becomes Queen Elizabeth I of England.

February 19, 1566 – The second Earl of Southampton, twenty-one, marries Mary Browne, age thirteen. She is daughter of Anthony Browne, first Viscount Montague, whose mansion at Cowdray is another bastion of Catholicism.

February 1568 – The second earl of Southampton settles his estates and his now master of his own affairs and a married man.


February 1569 – The Earl of Sussex writes to Sir William Cecil asking for his “helping hand for the young Earl of Southampton [whose Catholicism must be worrying the government] that he may be charitably be won than severely corrected.”

Summer 1569 – Queen Elizabeth on progress spends one night at Tichfield as Southampton’s guest.

Southampton & Montague Attempt to Flee

November 1569 – Northern Rebellion of the Catholic earls begins.

December 1569 – Southampton and his father-in-law Montague, who had both been involved in treasonable plans with the rebellion leaders, set sail for Flanders. But contrary winds force them back to England, where they are greeted with orders from the Queen to come immediately to Court to explain. [Akrigg, p. 8]

[Queen Elizabeth would be furious with the Second Earl of Southampton, given that her father King Henry the Eighth had created the earldom in the first place and, too, given the irony that the earl’s wealth had come from the dissolving and plundering of the Catholic monasteries.]


[The Queen and her ministers are anxious to come to an amicable agreement with Southampton and Montague. They smooth things over and Montague is appointed a Joint Lord Lieutenant of his county, as evidence of royal trust in him. Montague would follow through on his commitment, keeping his Catholic religion while never again conspiring against Elizabeth, who would point to him as evidence that she could get along with Catholics so long as they were loyal to her. In fact he will pledge his undying defense of her at Tilbury in 1588, when the Spanish armada is arriving and she reviews the army there.]


May 1570 – John Felton pins a copy of the Bull of Pius V, excommunicating Elizabeth, on the door of the Bishop of London’s house. The Pope has ordered subjects “that they presume not to obey her, or her monitions, Mandates, and Laws” under pain of excommunication. This poses an internal crisis for the Earl of Southampton.

[The earl seeks out John Leslie, Bishop of Ross, agent in London of Mary Queen of Scots, now in her English captivity. He asks the bishop whether he should, or should not, continue to serve his queen. The interview takes place secretly at night, in the seclusion of the Lambeth marshes, but is cut short by the arrival of the watch. So far the Crown is unaware of this meeting.]

June 16, 1570 – Council members Lord William Howard, Sir Francis Knowles, and Sir William Cecil write to Beecher, below. (The date below may be incorrect; this is from the Losely Papers, 229)


June 18, 1570 – The Privy Council orders Southampton arrested and confined incommunicado in the house of Beecher, Sheriff of London. He is “to allow him to have conference with none save such his domestic attendants as he should have selected to wait on him; that he should neither write nor receive any letters which should not be subjected to the Sheriff’s inspection; that he might be allowed to walk in the Sheriff’s garden in the absence of strangers” provide that the sheriff or one of the sheriff’s trusted servants is with him. [Losely Papers, 230]

July 14, 1570 – Anthony Montague writes from his house at Cowdray to Mr. More, begging him to inquire of his son-in-law if he can do anything more in his behalf.


July 15, 1570 – The Privy Council has has Southampton transferred to the custody of William More at his country home in Losely. The Council instructs More to induce the earl to join in household devotions using the Book of Common Prayer in conformity with the Church of England. [Southampton will finally comply.] The plague is raging in London and the Second Earl of Southampton is in poor health; the Queen has him moved to More’s custody.

[Losely Papers comment under 15 July 1570: “The reports of Mr. More to the Council on this subject are curiously minute and detailed. The uniting in the Common Prayer was considered at that period a sort of test of the loyalty of suspected persons.” Montague “exerted all his influence” to obtain the earl’s release; “nevertheless he remained in durance at Losely for three years, when he was permitted to remove to the seat of the Viscount at Cowdray in Sussex.” (But that period would include the earl’s eighteen months of imprisonment.)

July 16, 1570 – The Earl of Southampton writes from London to Mr. More. He has sent letters from the Council that “I am appointed to continue with you for a time.” He’d rather be at his own house; “otherwise I am glad they have placed me with so honest a gentleman and my friend; and so desiring to come to you tomorrow, I bid you farewell with hardy commendations to your wife.” (Losely 231)

August 10, 1570 – Sheriff Beecher writes to Mr. More about sicknesses in London. (It may or may not have been the plague, though.)

October 18, 1570 – The Council writes to Mr. More desiring to be informed by private letter from him if the Earl of Southampton is attending Common Prayer in his house; “and in case he have not so done already, then we require you, as of yourself, to move and persuade him thereunto, and of that he shall do or hath done, and shall answer thereupon, we pray you advertise us with convenient speed.” This is signed from Wyndes (Windsor?) by W. North, F. Bedford, R. Leicester, W. Howard, F. Knollys, James Crofts, W. Cecil and Walter Mildmay. [ Losely Manuscripts 233]

[MR. MORE REPLIES: He told the earl to have Common Prayer twice a day in his house; the earl said he “had no disposition to come out of his chamber to pray, but rather to occupy himself in prayer, thinking it to be no great difference to do the one or the other, and therefore desired me to think that he did not absent himself from the same as of one that condemned (?) the service, for not only he had usually Common Prayer in his own house,” but he also did the same at Court. Mr. More was determined; the earl finally came to service and stayed from beginning to end,” and he has expressed willingness. More is still persuading, so the earl is again willing to be present for service. And so prayer continues.]

October 31, 1570 – Viscount Montague writes from Cowdray to Mr. More that his daughter purposes to make suit for her husband’s liberation. “I cannot a little marvel that my Lord of Southampton having dealt and written as lately you know he hath, no resolutions follow of his release.” He says his daughter had had cause to hope the best. “If there appears to you no likelihood of his discharge, I pray you send me word by this bearer what you think, to the end his wife may stay no longer, but for discharge of her duty to make suit as she may. I trust and make myself assured he hath and doth not want your best means to further him.”

[MR. MORE WRITES A DRAFT LETTER TO LEICESTER – (Indicating in so many words that he fears the Earl of Southampton may commit suicide.) He understands that Leicester and others have interceded with the Queen for the earl’s enlargement. “He is fallen into that heaviness and pensiveness of mind as that I see it will either breed in him some present sickness or some great inconvenience hereafter. I have used the best persuasions I can to stay him from the same, but it little prevails, and his answer is that his restraint of liberty is very painful to him, because he doubts the same to be such discomfort to my Lady his wife as may be to her great harm, yet the indignation and displeasure of her Highness which he thinketh vehemently turns against him, because he says his friends’ earnest labor unto her Grace in his behalf can take no better place, doth so far pass the other in grief of mind unto him, as that his life seemeth to him very tedious. Of which I thought it my duty to advertise your Lordship, because I perceive his hope of qualification of the Queen’s Majesty’s displeasure against him rests chiefly in you, by whose good care if he may effect the same, it shall not only be greatly to his comfort but also bind him in honor to be at your commandment during his life.”


November 1570 – Southampton is freed from More’s custody.

April 1571 – Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford enters the House of Lords.

September 1571 – The government learns the full scope of the Ridolfi Plot, which had been simmering for a year, centered on the Duke of Norfolk, who was to raise an English Catholic army, release Mary Queen of Scots and then, with help from a Spanish invasion force, capture London and put Mary on Queen Elizabeth’s throne.

[The Bishop of Ross was deeply involved. He is arrested and learns that the Duke’s secretaries incriminated him. He is threatened with death on the scaffold, panics and tells all, spilling the story of meeting Southampton in the Lambeth marshes. Akrigg: “An English earl who had asked a Roman Catholic bishop whether or not he should obey the Queen had to be severely punished.” Elizabeth, at this point, would be so enraged at the earl that she would just as soon have him tried for high treason and executed. There is apparently no trial, however.]

October 1571

Late October 1571 – The second Earl of Southampton, twenty-six, is arrested and placed in the Tower of London, where he will spend the next eighteen months.

[Akrigg only speculates that the earl, at his own expense, could “maintain and furnish a chamber and could occasionally receive a license for a visit by his kin, but it was a grim life all the same.” He does not state what “kin” ever did receive permission to visit him, although one visitor near the end will be his father-in-law Montague.]

April 4, 1572 – The Second Earl of Southampton writes to Burghley from the Tower. [CSPD 1547-1580, Vol. I, p. 439; Vol. LXXXVI]. He hopes that through Burghley’s favor he may be able to obtain the Queen’s good will. He denies charges of misconduct while in prison. He requests to be restored to his liberty and Her Majesty’s favor. He has suffered “no small grief” that reports of his conduct in the prison are such that “thereby her Majesty’s displeasure should be more and more kindled against me (the heavy burden whereof to my great grief and discomfort I have now long time sustained).” This is a long letter, rambling on, mostly about the charges of bad behavior but also about the Queen’s negative attitude toward him, which he hopes will change.

April 20, 1572 – Mary Browne, Countess of Southampton, writes to Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, praying to be allowed to join her husband, who is a prisoner in the Tower. [Dudley Papers, DU/Vol. II, 21, f. 78; the original is archived at Longleat House; it is difficult to read and we have transcribed only the second half – courtesy of Christopher Paul, transcriber.] She writes from her father’s house, signing as “Your assured poor kinswoman, M Southampton.”

July 15, 1572 – William Cecil Lord Burghley is made Lord Treasurer.

July 1572 – Mary Browne, Countess of Southampton writes to Burghley asking his advice. Her mother in law [the earl’s mother] wants her to make suit to the Queen’s Majesty on behalf of her husband. “Marry, perceiving by my Lord my father, as also from my Lady Clinton, how unprepared the Queen’s Majesty is as yet to receive our suit, and how unwilling sundry of my Lords of the Council be that I should as yet press her Majesty therein, I can hardly resolve what to do, especially for that I fear my absence will be used by some as a matter to my discredit …” She wants to know what he thinks she should do. She signs it Your Lordship’s poor friend and cousin, M. Southampton (Cotton MS.)

July 16, 1572 – The Countess writes again to Burghley, saying her husband in the Tower is “sick I fear of a burning fever, as also troubled with a swelling in his stomach, which he was never till this time trouble withal.” She continues: “Therefore I beseech you for God’s sake, be a mean for some more liberty for him, and that I may have recourse to him to attend him in his sickness, if his full enlargement [liberty] will be not obtained.” [Clearly she has not yet been allowed to visit him in the Tower.]

“Truly, my Lord, if he be no better attended now in his sickness than commonly he is, I much fear his life will not be long. The necessity of the present cause compelleth me to be thus earnest for liberty to go to him, which I hope shall not be denied him being sick, and have been granted to others in health. Thus expecting your Lordship’s answer of some good comfort upon the which my Lord his well-doing resteth…”

August 1572 – St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre of Protestants in France – another reason for the Queen and Burghley to be afraid for their lives, and for the Queen to continue her fury against the earl of Southampton.

December 22, 1572 – An informant writes to the Duke of Alva, “The Earl of Arundel has been released … There are good hopes, too, of his son-in-law Lord Lumley, and the Earl of Southampton.”

January 1573 – Elizabeth visits Matthew Parker, Archbishop of Canterbury, at Lambeth. Oxford is with her on the visit. (ARCHBISHOP VISIT NUMBER ONE)


February 13, 1573 – The Earl of Southampton writes to Lord Burghley that he had been told by his wife and father-in-law how much kindness he owed him, and how grateful he was.

[There is no evidence that either the Countess of Southampton or Viscount Montague had visited the Tower and gave him this information in person; on the contrary, if either one had visited, there would be a record of it, as there will be a record when Montague does visit in the following month.]

Other notes on this letter of 13 Feb 1573 to Burghley:
The earl begins, “Understanding my very good Lord as well by my wife, as also especially from my Lord Montague how many ways I am beholding and bound in good will unto your Lordship…”

He is desperate for the “recovery of her Majesty’s favor.” He has enclosed or attached “the form of a letter which I wish to be delivered to her Majesty,” and he is “beseeching your Lordship” to read it and change it as he thinks best “and for the delivery thereof so to appoint either by my wife (if so her Majesty would like best to accept it) or else by your Lordship’s good means, so as she may read and peruse the same. “ He closes “from my wearisome prison.”

February 14, 1573 – The Earl of Southampton writes to the Lords of the Council – a humble letter of submission and entreaty that they would testify to the Queen his wish to do dutiful and faithful service to her, and help him to regain her favor, without which liberty would be worse than bondage. [Landsdowne MSS 16/23]

[Note: The earl gives no indication that he is aware of his wife’s pregnancy. She would be five or six weeks along by now. Perhaps she herself doesn’t know yet that she is pregnant. ]

[In this letter of 14 Feb 1573 the earl speaks of “the continuance of my misery as specially the previous and heavy answer of her Majesty given to my poor wife after her long suit [indicating that her pleas to be able to visit him in the Tower have been rejected] and travail that the sore of her Majesty’s opinion towards me is not either cured or by any my so aforesaid means removed” – confirming that in fact the Queen loathes this man who would have supported her murder.

[It has been said that at no time was the Queen more afraid and angry than she was at the time of the northern rebellion of Catholic earls, and her fierce retribution included the order to Sussex to hang several hundred men who had joined the rebellion. Her anger at the second earl of Southampton would have been part of the Queen’s overall emotional reaction that must have lingered long, fueled also by the recent St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in France.]

After humble begging, he refers to “the 16 months close imprisonment” that he has endured so far – the phrase “close imprisonment” referring, at the very least, to his relative isolation in the Tower without having been allowed any visitors including his wife and father-in-law. Also, if the Countess has discovered her pregnancy in just the past week, she may have made a special plea to visit her husband and have conjugal relations with him, to try to cover up her adultery.]

February 14-March 30, 1573 – There is no letter pleading with the Council for the earl’s release because of his wife’s pregnancy. Certainly this would be a factor in considering whether to release him or not; unless, of course, she had become pregnant by some other man.

(To Arrange for His Release)

March 30, 1573 – Lord Montague is licensed to confer with his son-in-law “touching matters of law and the use of his living.”
The conference must be “in the Lieutenant’s presence,” that is, in the presence of the Lieutenant of the Tower. [The record of this visit, which required licensing by the Privy Council, makes it highly unlikely that the earl had ever received other visits, which surely would have been recorded if not requiring license. In fact, for example, visits to the Third Earl of Southampton in the Tower during 1601-1603 were recorded and such records are extant.]

At stake for Montague and his daughter is the danger of scandal, not to mention the danger of the Elizabethan government getting angry at them. This holds true for the second earl also.

[March 30, 1573 – By now the Countess of Southampton is most probably nearing three months of her pregnancy with the “goodly boy” to be born October 6, 1573; that is, conception for a normal nine-month pregnancy would have occurred on or about January 6, 1573.

[Given the lack of evidence that the Countess of Southampton had ever visited her husband in the Tower during his imprisonment, two tentative conclusions are inevitable: (1) the Countess had committed adultery and had become pregnant by another man, and (2) her father’s visit to her husband in the Tower was to inform him of the situation and explain to him that the Council, or Burghley, will release him from the Tower if he agrees to accept the forthcoming child as his own.

[Hereafter the Crown will keep the earl under strict supervision and control, again using William More of Losely, but also using Lord Montague as a poster child for loyal Catholic subjects. Montague is pledging utter loyalty to the Crown under the threat of his own imprisonment, but he would also want to avoid the scandal of his daughter as an adulteress, so his compliance is doubly assured.]

March 31, 1573 – At Greenwich – Acts of the Privy Council – A letter to the Lieutenant of the Tower signifying her Majesty’s pleasure “for more liberty of the Earl of Southampton and Sir Henry Percy, Knight, and that he should consign the said Earl to Mr. Moore.”
April 1573 – There is nothing to report about Southampton so far.



May 5, 1573 – THE COUNCIL GIVES MR. MORE PERMISSION TO ALLOW SOUTHAMPTON’S WIFE, FRIENDS AND SERVANTS TO VISIT HIM [at More’s home], to allow them to ride out together, and even to visit Dogmarsfield, the house he is rebuilding. But Mr. More must go with them. He must return to Mr. More’s house the same night. “And so desiring you hereof not to fail,” the Council tells More.

[This appears to be the first time the Earl of Southampton and the Countess of Southampton have been together since before his imprisonment.]

May 5, 1573 – “Whereas, upon the humble submission of the earl of Southampton, the Queen’s Majesty’s gracious pleasure was, that he should be set at more liberty, her highness hath made special choice of you with whom he might for the for the time remain, till some further order be taken: which we have thought good to signify unto you, desiring you as well to permit unto him the access of my lady his wife, his other friends and servants which shall repair unto him, as otherwise suffer him to go some time abroad [beyond his estate] with them for taking the air, so that it be with your liking and in your company.”



October 6, 1573 – Southampton writes to William More that God has sent him “a goodly boy.”

“After my most hardy commendations, both to you and your good wife: Although it so happed by the sudden sickness of my wife, that we could not by possibility have her present as we desired, yet have I thought good to impart unto you such comfort as God hath sent me after all my long troubles, which is that this present morning, at three o’clock, my wife was delivered of a goodly boy (God bless him!) the which, although it was not without great peril to them both for the present, yet now I thank God, both are in good state. If your wife will take the pains to visit her, we shall be mighty glad of her company; and so, with my hardy commendations to your son Polsted and his wife, and to good Mr. Soundar, if he be with you, I end for this time, bidding you hardy farewell. From Cowdray, this present Tuesday 1573. Your assured friend, H. Southampton.” [Losely Manuscripts, 240]

[It would seem the Earl has taken pains to avoid writing that the “goodly boy” is in fact his son and heir to the Southampton earldom. There are no other surviving letters, from or to Viscount Montague, Mr. More, the Countess and the Earl of Southampton himself.]


“It is strange that there has been preserved no record of his baptism … There appears to be no later allusion to the godparents of the young lord … The Registers of Tichfield for that period are not extant. We know very little about the young lord’s childhood. The first is in the will of his grandmother, the Lady Jane, dated 26 July 1574; by it she left various bequests to ‘my Son’s son, Harry, Lord Wriothesley.’ This gives us at least the clue to his baby-name, and a reference to his baby expectations.” — Charlotte Stopes writes this in her 1922 biography of the third earl, indicating that the boy was being called ‘Harry’ in honor of King Henry VIII, known as Great Harry [Wouldn’t this be odd for a Catholic family?] and, perhaps, that the ‘expectations’ for him were that he himself will become a king.

(12-18 MONTHS)

[“Quite apart from the powerful disincentive to psychological involvement caused by the high infant mortality rate, most upper-class parents, and many middle- and lower-class ones, saw relatively little of their children because of the common practice of ‘fostering out.’ In the upper classes, babies were put out to wet-nurse at birth, usually away from home, for between twelve and eighteen months … Not only were the infants of the landed, upper-bourgeois and professional classes in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries sent out to hired wet-nurses for the first twelve to eighteen months, but thereafter they were brought up mainly by nurses, governesses and tutors.” – Lawrence Stone, “The Family, Sex and Marriage in England, 1500-1800]

[Therefore we consider that the “goodly boy” born on October 6, 1573 is now put out to wet-nurse for twelve to eighteen months or until October 1574 up to as late as April or May 1575.]

JULY 1574: The earl’s mother dies; in her will she names her son’s new son Harry. Meanwhile, the Queen grants the earl a small office, giving him a sign of favor for his new loyalty. She makes him Commissioner of the Peace for his shire and he makes a survey of its defenses.

SEPT 1574: The earl appears to be acting bizarrely. He is now impoverishing himself, lavishing funds upon the building of his great new mansion at Dogmersfield, and, too, maintaining a much larger retinue than needed. He is recklessly bankrupting himself, as if he cared more for his posthumous image than for his current life.

From here on the earl and his wife the Countess are quarreling and reconciling, back and forth.

1577: The earl, upset at his wife’s intimacy with a man named Donsame, forbids her to ever see him again. When her affair actually began is unknown to me. Had it begun while her husband was in the Tower?

JAN 1580: The earl learns that his wife has been with Mr. Donesame at her father’s home of Cowdray. He now knows, if he has not known earlier or all along, that the Countess and the commoner Mr. Donesame are lovers.

The earl breaks with his wife and with her family. The Countess is banished from her husband’s home and grounds. She goes to live at one of his Hampshire residences. She is kept from here on under close surveillance. She is permitted to have carefully selected guests only on occasion.

FEB 1580: The Privy Council records that the servants of the two households, the Montagues and the Wriothesleys, are quarreling – as with the Montagues and Capulets.

MARCH 21, 1580: The Countess writes to her father Montague claiming that one Thomas Dymocke has taken over her husband’s house and his life. [I do not know exactly when Dymocke entered the picture, but obviously it was before now.] She blames Dymocke for her husband’s rage at her.

[And in 1598 she will claim that Henry the Third Earl of Southampton “never was kind to me.” In Oxford’s world “kind” is a loaded word, that means not only “nice,” etc., but kindred.]

JAN 16, 1581: The second earl is imprisoned [not sure when he is released] in consequence of the new Act against Catholics. His health has been declining and it will continue to decline as the government puts more pressure on him.

AUGUST 1581: The Council learns that the earl was in communication with Jesuit martyr Campion, through Thomas Dymock. The earl is now under increasing strain.

OCT 4, 1581: The earl dies at his Itchell house next to Dogmersfield.

DEC 1581: The boy Southampton, third earl, enters Cecil House in London as a royal ward of the Queen. The earl of Oxford had been the first; Southampton is now the eighth and last. Oxford returns to his wife Anne and all is well with the Cecil family.


No. 90 of 100 Reasons Why “Shakespeare” was Edward de Vere: His Tutor Had the Only Manuscript of “Beowulf,” an Influence upon “Hamlet”

Beowulf Image  Superimposed Over Original Manuscript Text

Beowulf Image
Superimposed Over
Original Manuscript Text

Most often when scholars have begun to suspect that “Shakespeare” was influenced in his writing of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark by the ancient narrative poem Beowulf, they have made a sharp turn away from that idea. Beowulf, as generations of students can attest, is the earliest surviving Old English poem, dated between the eighth and eleventh centuries, by an unknown author. Set in Scandinavia and told in 3182 alliterative lines, it’s one of the most important works of Anglo-Saxon literature, as well as one of the earliest European epics written not in Latin but in the vernacular or native language. And the traditional author of the Shakespeare works, the man from Stratford upon Avon, could not have read it.

Beowulf, a hero of the Geats, comes to the aid of Hroogar, King of the Danes, whose mead-hall (great royal feasting hall, where warriors could sleep at night) has been under attack by the monster Grendel. Beowulf slays Grendel; when Grendel’s mother attacks, he kills her, too; and then he returns home to Geatland in Sweden, where he becomes King of the Geats.

The Death of Beowulf (with friend Wiglaf)

The Death of Beowulf
(with friend Wiglaf)

Fifty years pass until the third and final battle, when Beowulf’s friend Wiglaf helps him slay the Dragon; but after being mortally wounded in the fight, Beowulf delivers his dying words to his friend — as rendered below in the 1963 translation by Burton Raffel, with echoes from Hamlet’s dying words to Horatio:

Take what I leave, Wiglat, lead my people,
Help them; my time is gone…

O, I die, Horatio,
The potent poison quite o’er-crows my spirit…

Have the brave Geats build me a tomb …
And build it here, at the water’s edge, high
On this spit of land, so sailors can see
This tower and remember my name.

O God, Horatio, what a wounded name,
Things standing thus unknown, shall I leave behind me!
If thou didst ever hold me in thy heart,
Absent thee from felicity awhile,
And in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain
To tell my story.

Laurence Nowell's self portrait (with empty purse) at lower left corner of a pocket map he made for Wm. Cecil

Laurence Nowell’s self portrait (with empty purse) at lower left corner of a pocket map he made for Wm. Cecil

One – and only one – Beowulf manuscript exists. It’s a fragile document, possibly the anonymous author’s working copy, the result of two scribes taking down the words as he spoke them. Although the poem is set in Scandinavia, it was written in England; and the earliest known owner of the manuscript was the scholar Laurence Nowell, who received it after entering the London house of his patron, William Cecil, chief minister to Queen Elizabeth, in 1562 or 1563. An expert collector of Anglo-Saxon documents, Nowell later compiled the first Anglo-Saxon Dictionary. After coming into possession of a volume of handwritten manuscripts containing the Beowulf text, he signed his name in pencil on the back of it along with the year, 1563. The manuscript volume is bound in what is still known as the “Nowell Codex” and is kept today at the British Library.

The immediate point here is that only a few highly placed individuals in the world ever got to read Beowulf until well after the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. We can be certain that William Shaksper of Stratford could not have seen the ancient poem. So the scholars who have noticed the influence of Beowulf in Hamlet have had to either find some explanation for the similarities or ignore them.

(It’s like the shock that would occur if, say, an elephant suddenly walked through the living room. The mind scrambles to explain; otherwise, it cries out: “This does not exist!”)

A page of the Beowulf  Manuscript

A page of the Beowulf

It turns out, however, that the influence of Beowulf in Shakespeare’s Hamlet does exist. Laurence Nowell – antiquarian, cartographer, Anglo-Saxon scholar – had been summoned by Cecil to act as a special tutor to young Edward de Vere, seventeenth Earl of Oxford, who arrived at Cecil House at age twelve in September of 1562, as a royal ward of the Queen in the chief minister’s custody. It was in 1563 that, through Cecil (as well as Matthew Parker, Archbishop of Canterbury), he acquired the manuscript; and young Oxford, to whom so much evidence points as the true author of the Shakespeare works, was literally in the same room with Nowell when the Anglo-Saxon scholar was brimming with excitement over having this precious text in his hands.

This is the kind of surprising information that Oxfordians have been discovering since J. Thomas Looney published “Shakespeare” Identified in 1920. This specific discovery has been known at least since the publication of “Beowulf, Hamlet and Edward de Vere” by the late Dr. Andrew Hanna in the Shakespeare Oxford Society Newsletter of Spring 1990 (Vol. 26, No. 2); they may have read a wonderfully succinct account of it in Mark Anderson’s biography Shakespeare by Another Name (2005); and they may have seen Dr. TK Kenyon’s blog review of that book, in which she writes:

“Consider, if you will, the obvious plot and character parallels between Hamlet and Beowulf. The author of Hamlet clearly had read Beowulf and understood deeply. (Any other explanation is like denying the literary relationship between The Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now.) De Vere was one of very few people in England or elsewhere with access to Beowulf, let alone that his tutor signed it at the time he tutored de Vere.”

[Also highly recommended is the comprehensive work of Stephanie Hughes in her blog Politicworm – see “Laurence Nowell and Beowulf”.]

The Death of Hamlet

The Death of Hamlet

B.M. Ward writes in his documentary biography of Edward de Vere: “In June 1563 Laurence Nowell wrote a Latin letter to Cecil, drawing his attention to the slip-shod manner in which the cartographers and geographers of England were doing their work … He goes on to ask Cecil that to him may be entrusted the task of compiling an accurate map, because ‘I clearly see that my work for the Earl of Oxford cannot be much longer required.'”

Some defenders of the Stratfordian faith have tried to turn Nowell’s statement into a negative remark about Oxford, but common sense points elsewhere, even if only because Nowell would never dare to speak ill to Cecil of the young nobleman in his charge, who stood to become the highest-ranking earl of the realm. As Ward comments, “That a scholar of Nowell’s attainments should speak thus of his pupil, then aged thirteen and a half, argues a precocity quite out of the ordinary.”

Here is a selection from the ground-breaking essay by Andy Hanna:

“But what was Beowulf to ‘Shake-speare’? Conventional scholarship on the play most likely to show such a link, Hamlet, is silent on any connection to Beowulf. The Stratford fellow couldn’t possibly have known of the Old English manuscript of a poem that didn’t ‘surface’ to literati until a librarian noticed it over a century later, the wisdom holds … But scholars also realize that the play Hamlet abandons the obvious Saxo/Belleforest ‘source’ after the revengeful killing of the uncle. That is, what happens after Amleth kills Feng in Saxo is not found in Hamlet, nor is any of the motif of Hamlet’s death found in Saxo or Belleforest. Enter Beowulf

The mead-hall or feasting hall of the King was usually the safest place in the kingdom

The mead-hall or feasting hall of the King was usually the safest place in the kingdom

“I would like to suggest that in the dying words of Hamlet we see a refiguring of the poignant exchange between the dying Beowulf and his faithful (and lone follower) Wiglaf – who also is a relative, a cousin, of his lord [the military hero Horatio Vere was Oxford’s cousin]. Not insignificantly, both Beowulf and Hamlet are concerned not just about their own names and stories – which Wiglaf and Horatio will report – but also over the fate of the kingdom, the succession to the throne. Both lands either are or soon will be overrun by foreign power. And oddly, the puzzling slipping of time, the aging of Beowulf, bears a curious resemblance to the passage of time in which Hamlet appears in Act Five to have aged from a Prince in early manhood to an ostensible thirty years of age …

“As for the youthful Oxford ever seeing the Beowulf story, I cannot imagine a tutor such as Nowell not at some juncture showing his pupil that poem – and telling the story – written in a hand from the days of the first earls of Oxford. De Vere, many years later to be sure, recollected, and ‘I am Beowulf the Great’ became ‘This is I, Hamlet the Dane!’

monster in beowulf

[I cannot bring myself to omit another observation from Dr. Hanna — that “as any observer of the ‘Shake-spearian’ critical industry could attest, if Laurence Nowell could be shown to have had any connection to the Stratford youth, or to the school he is postulated to have attended, we soon would be wading in our piscatory hip boots in Hamlet-Beowulf studies.”]

Here’s an excerpt from Mark Anderson:

Beowulf was as inaccessible as the crown jewels to anyone outside of Cecil House. With an author whose childhood education would have exposed him to Beowulf, the ancient poem’s influence on Shake-speare becomes not inexplicable but rather expected…

Beowulf and the original Hamlet myth (‘Amleth’) are cousins from the same family of Scandinavian folklore. Shake-speare uses both as sources for Hamlet. Once Hamlet kills his uncle Claudius, Shake-speare stops following ‘Amleth’ and starts following Beowulf. It is Beowulf who fights the mortal duel with poison and sword; it is Beowulf who turns to his loyal comrade (Wiglaf in Beowulf; Horatio in Hamlet) to recite a dying appeal to carry his name and cause forward…”

beowulf image

More from the same section of the Burton Raffel translation, near the end:

“For this, this gold, these jewels, I thank
Our Father in Heaven, Ruler of the Earth—
For all of this, that His grace has given me,
Allowed me to bring to my people while breath
Still came to my lips. I sold my life
For this treasure, and I sold it well. Take
What I leave, Wiglaf, lead my people,
Help them; my time is gone. Have
The brave Geats build me a tomb,
When the funeral flames have burned me, and build it
Here, at the water’s edge, high
On this spit of land, so sailors can see
This tower, and remember my name, and call it
Beowulf s tower, and boats in the darkness
And mist, crossing the sea, will know it.”

Then that brave King gave the golden
Necklace from around his throat to Wiglaf,
Gave him his gold-covered helmet, and his rings,
And his mail shirt, and ordered him to use them well:

“You’re the last of all our far-flung family.
Fate has swept our race away,
Taken warriors in their strength and led them
To the death that was waiting. And now I follow them.”

The old man’s mouth was silent, spoke
No more, had said as much as it could;
He would sleep in the fire, soon. His soul
Left his flesh, flew to glory…

And from the pen of the author of Hamlet:

… the rest is silence.

Now cracks a noble heart. Good night, sweet Prince,
And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!

“The Two Most Noble Henries” – Henry de Vere & Henry Wriothesley – No. 89 of 100 Reasons why the 17th Earl of Oxford was “Shakespeare”

"The Portraicture of the right honorable Lords, the two most noble HENRIES revived the Earles of Oxford (left) and Southampton (right)" -  circa 1624

“The Portraicture of the right honorable Lords, the two most noble HENRIES revived the Earles of Oxford and Southampton” –
circa 1624

“There were some gallant spirits that aimed at the Public Liberty more than their own interest … among which the principal were Henry, Earl of Oxford, Henry, Earl of Southampton … and divers others, that supported the old English honor and would not let it fall to the ground.” – Arthur Wilson, History of Great Britain (1653), p. 161, referring to the earls’ opposition to the policies of King James in 1621

Venus and Adonis was recorded in the Stationer’s Register on April 18, 1593 and published soon after. No author’s name appeared on the title-page, but the dedication was signed “William Shakespeare” – the first appearance of that name in print.

"Venus and Adonis" Dedication - 1593

“Venus and Adonis” Dedication – 1593

The epistle was addressed to nineteen-year-old Henry Wriothesley, third Earl of Southampton, to whom the poet bequeathed Lucrece the following year. Never again would this author dedicate anything to anyone else, thereby uniquely linking Southampton to “Shakespeare” for all time. In fact the poet was so confident of his ability to grant the young earl enduring fame (while paradoxically being certain his own identity would never be known) that he would tell him in Sonnet 81:

Your name from hence immortal life shall have,
Though I (once gone) to all the world must die.

On February 24, 1593, less than two months before the registry of Venus and Adonis, a son was born to Edward de Vere, seventeenth Earl of Oxford, forty-three, and his second wife Elizabeth Trentham, about thirty, a former Maid of Honor to Queen Elizabeth. The two had married in 1591 and had moved to the village of Stoke-Newington, just north of Shoreditch and the Curtain and Theater playhouses.

The boy, destined to become the eighteenth Earl of Oxford, was brought to the Parish Church on March 31, 1593 and christened Henry de Vere – not Edward, after his father, nor any of the great first names in the Vere lineage (such as John or Robert) all the way back to 1141, when Aubrey de Vere was created the first Earl of Oxford.

"Lucrece" Dedication 1594

“Lucrece” Dedication

“It is curious that the name ‘Henry’ is unique in the de Vere, Cecil and Trentham families,” B.M. Ward commented in 1928. “There must have been some reason for his being given this name, but if so I have been unable to discover it.”

During this time Henry Wriothesley was being sought by William Cecil Lord Burghley for the hand of Oxford’s eldest daughter, Lady Elizabeth Vere. Oxford had become a royal ward in Burgley’s household in 1562; Southampton had followed in 1581; and now on April 18, 1593, little more than two weeks after the christening of Oxford’s male heir as Henry de Vere, the yet-unknown “Shakespeare” was dedicating “the first heir of my invention” to Henry Wriothesley.

“The metaphor of ‘the first heir’ would seem to echo the recent birth of Oxford’s only son and heir to his earldom,” J. Thomas Looney noted in 1920, “and as ‘Shakespeare’ speaks of Southampton as the ‘godfather’ of ‘the first heir of my invention,’ it would certainly be interesting to know whether Henry Wriothesley was godfather to Oxford’s heir, Henry de Vere.”

In the dedication of Lucrece in 1594, the author made a unique public promise to Southampton, indicating a close and caring relationship with its own past, coupled with an extraordinary vision of future commitment:

“The love I dedicate to your Lordship is without end … What I have done is yours, what I have to do is yours, being part in all I have, devoted yours.”

Henry Wriothesley Earl of Southampton

Henry Wriothesley
Earl of Southampton

Given that Henry Wriothesley is the only individual to whom “Shakespeare” is known to have written any letters of any kind, he must be the central contemporary individual within the biography of Shakespeare the poet and dramatist. (This is especially so if Southampton is the younger man or “fair youth” of the Sonnets.) The problem, however, is that scholars have never discovered any trace of a relationship between Southampton and William Shaksper of Stratford-upon-Avon, not even any evidence that they knew each other.

But if the poet was Edward de Vere, dedicating his first published work under the newly invented pen name “Shakespeare” to Henry Wriothesley, then his promise that “what I have to do is yours” demands a look into the future for evidence of continuing linkage.

Among the possible evidence is the performance of Richard II as by “Shakespeare” on the eve of the Essex Rebellion on February 8, 1601 led by Robert Devereux, second Earl of Essex along with Southampton. If Oxford was the dramatist, had he given permission to use his play for such a dangerous and possibly treasonous motive? Had he given his approval personally to Southampton, to help him? These are among the many questions for which history has no answers.

Looney pointed to a “spontaneous affinity of Oxford with the younger Earls of Essex and Southampton, all three of whom, having been royal wards under the guardianship of Burghley, were most hostile to the Cecil influence at Court.” By the same token, many scholars have noted evidence in the “Shakespeare” plays that the author was sympathetic to the Essex faction – which makes sense if Oxford and “Shakespeare” were one and the same.

Notice of the trial of Essex and Southampton  1600 old style 1601 new Oxford as highest ranking peer on tribunal

Notice of the trial of Essex and Southampton
1600 old style 1601 new
Oxford as highest ranking peer on tribunal

[Oxford was summoned from retirement to act as the senior of twenty-five noblemen on the tribunal at the joint treason trial of Essex and Southampton on February 19, 1601. The peers had no choice but to render a unanimous guilty verdict and to sentence both earls to death. It was “the veriest travesty of a trial,” Ward comments. Essex was beheaded six days later, but Southampton was spared; and after more than two years in prison, he was quickly released by the newly proclaimed King James. CLICK ON IMAGE FOR LARGER VIEW.]

Oxford is recorded as having died at fifty-four on June 24, 1604. That night agents of the Crown arrived at Southampton’s house in London, confiscating his papers and bringing him (and others who had supported Essex) back to the Tower, where he was interrogated before being released the next day. Whether the two events (Oxford’s death and Southampton’s arrest) were related remains a matter of conjecture.

In January 1605, Southampton hosted a performance of Love’s Labours Lost for Queen Anne. The earl apparently had not forgotten how, in the early 1590s, he and his university friends had enjoyed private performances of the play.

In the latter years of James both Henry Wriothesley and Henry de Vere became increasingly opposed to the King’s favorite George Villiers, first Duke of Buckingham, and the projected Spanish match between the King’s son Prince Charles and Maria Ana of Spain – fearing that Spain would grow even stronger to the point of conquering England and turning it back into a repressive Catholic country.

Henry Wriothesley 3rd Earl of Southampton

Henry Wriothesley
3rd Earl of Southampton

On March 14, 1621, Henry Wriothesley, forty-eight, got into a sharp altercation with Buckingham in the House of Peers; that June he was confined (in the Dean of Westminster’s house and later in his own seat of Tichfield) on charges of “mischievous intrigues” with members of the Commons; and in July of the same year, Henry de Vere, twenty-eight, spent a few weeks in the Tower for expressing his anger toward the prospective Spanish match. Henry Wriothesley was set free on the first of September.

Then on April 20, 1622, after railing against Buckingham again, Henry de Vere was arrested for the second time and confined in the Tower for twenty months until December 1623 – just when the First Folio of Shakespeare plays became available for purchase.

[Whatever might have been the relationship between the imprisonment of Oxford and the publishing of the Folio is unclear; my own feeling is that the printing may well have been spurred by the prospect of Spanish control and the destruction of the Shakespeare plays, especially the eighteen yet to be printed. The Spanish marriage had collapsed in October 1623; but any opinions about whether the Folio printing was triggered by the prospect of the match, and/or the imprisonment of the eighteenth Earl of Oxford are welcome.]

Henry de Vere 18th Earl of Oxford

Henry de Vere
18th Earl of Oxford

When Henry de Vere volunteered for military service to the Protestant cause in the Low Countries in June 1624, as the colonel of a regiment of foot soldiers, he put forward a “claim of precedency” over his fellow colonel of another regiment, Henry Wriothesley. Eventually the Council of War struck a bargain between the two, with Oxford entitled to precedency in civil capacities and Southampton, “in respect of his former commands in the wars,” retaining precedence over military matters.

[The colonels of the other two regiments were Robert Devereux, third Earl of Essex, the son of Southampton’s great friend Essex, who was executed for the 1601 rebellion; and Robert Bertie, Lord Willoughby, son of Edward de Vere’s sister Mary Vere and his brother-in-law Peregrine Bertie, Lord Willoughby.]

“There seems to have been no ill will between Southampton and Oxford,” writes A.L. Rowse in his biography Shakespeare’s Southampton. “They were both imbued with conviction and fighting for a cause for which they had long fought politically. It was now a question of carrying their convictions into action, sacrificing their lives.”

Southampton and his elder son James (born in 1605) sailed for Holland in August 1624; in November, the earl’s regiment in its winter quarters at Roosendaal was afflicted by fever. Father and son both caught the contagion; the son died on November 5, 1624; and Southampton, having recovered, began the long sad journey with his son’s body back to England. Five days later, however, Southampton himself died at Bergen-op-Zoom at fifty-one. [A contemporary report was that agents of Buckingham had poisoned him to death.]

King James died on March 25, 1625 and Henry de Vere, eighteenth Earl of Oxford died at The Hague on July 25 that year, after receiving a shot wound on his left arm.

But why, after all, might the “Two Henries” be another reason to conclude that Edward de Vere was the real author of the Shakespeare works? Well, to begin with, in this story there is not a trace of the grain dealer and moneylender from Stratford; he is nowhere to be found. More important, however, is the obviously central role in the authorship story played by Henry Wriothesley, who went on to embody the spirit of the “Shakespeare” and the Elizabethan age – the great spirit of creative energy, of literature and drama, of romance and adventure, of invention and exploration, of curiosity and experimentation, of the Renaissance itself.

And, too, Southampton had become a kind of father figure to the sons of Oxford and Essex and Willoughby – the new generation of those “gallant spirits that aimed at the Public Liberty more than their own interest” and who “supported the old English honor and would not let it fall to the ground.”

How these men must have shared a love for “Shakespeare” and his stirring words! How they must have loved speeches such as the one spoken by the Bastard at the close of King John:

This England never did, nor never shall,
Lie at the proud foot of a conqueror
But when it first did help to wound itself.
Now these her princes are come home again,
Come the three corners of the world in arms,
And we shall shock them. Nought shall make us rue
If England to itself do rest but true!

two henries - 1


Oxfordian researcher and author Robert Brazil wrote the following on this topic in his book The True Story of the Shake-speare Publications: Edward de Vere and the Shakespeare Printers:

“In the 1600s Oxford’s son Henry became a very close friend to Henry Wriothesley. They shared a passion for politics, theater, and military adventure. The image of the Two Henries, which dates from 1624 or later, shows the earls of Oxford and Southampton riding horseback together in their co-command of the 6000 English troops in Holland that had joined with the Dutch forces in countering the continued attacks by Spain. The picture serves as a reminder that a close relationship between the Vere family and Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton, lasted for decades, and that Southampton CAN be linked historically to the author Shake-speare, provided that said author was really Edward de Vere.”

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