“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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5 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Great one, Hank.

    I wanted to point out that on July 16th the King ordered the “List of Commissioners for Woods to be resumed” and signed a warrant “authorizing the Lord Treasurer, and others, to make composition for the interest of any persons in the King’s woods within 12 miles of the Thames, or other rivers connected therewith, for resuming the King’s interest therein.” James (prodded by Cecil?) assigned the job of commissioner for Walthamstowe, Hackney, Old Ford and Stratford Langton Marches to Henry Wriothesley. The area was a big square that started in Hackney where Oxford owned King’s Place, and then crossed the River Lea to include the Walks of Walthamstow, Woodford and Layton in the forest of Essex where he had been steward. So it is interesting that James thought standing guard over de Vere country was an appropriate post for Southampton. Southampton shoved the responsibility back at Robert Cecil who assigned the job to Henry Heynes.

    There was a fever pitch of paranoia going on approaching the night of the arrest and afterward. Through April & May intelligence information about a plot involving 60 men, including Jesuits, was coming in, while James was angry that the MPs were opposing his wish to unite the isle under the name of Britain & would not grant him money. One of his biggest opponents in Parliament was Maurice Berkeley, good friend of Wriothesley (and incidentally a close half brother to the Thomas Russell who was overseer of Shakespeare’s will.) Maurice supported wardship reform, was against the new name of Britain and was the MP who “first turned the stream backward” in the matter of the unification of the Isle. So who do they round up on suspicion of plotting to kill Scots around the King (according to Ambassador Molino)? Southampton, Maurice Berkeley, and Henry Neville, another MP in that faction who was closely related to Berkeley by marriage (Neville and Maurice married Killegrew cousins; Maurice’s brother Henry Berkeley married Neville’s daughter).

    Around then they had to suppress a poem celebrating Essex and Lionel Sharpe, then Royal Chaplain of the princes, was arrested a week after Southampton & the MPs for attempting to raise a gentlemanly league of defense for the King — the thing was, that was one of the excuses used to gather men for risings including the Essex Rebellion, Sharpe was formerly Robert Devereaux’s Chaplain & years later he would be sent to the Tower for getting a colleague to threaten the Scots with massacre by mentioning the Spanish Vespers in a speech on the floor of Parliament.

    As Sir Anthony Weldon in 1650 said that it was Robert Cecil who “put some jealousies in the king’s head” that night and Cecil also made sure that de Vere was on record for “invaying” against the Scots in the Peyton case, I tend to blame Robert for all of it (de Vere’s death or disappearance and the arrest of Southampton & the MPs that night).

    • Thanks so much for this, Mystikel. If you can give us sources on this, please do. Not that I doubt it — but the stuff on assigning HW the job is new to me, I think, and adds to the powerful picture you paint for us. Again much appreciated.

      • With the monumental knowledge you have and share, I’m happy to be able to come up with an obscure reference for you!
        King appointing commissioners: CSP, July 16th, http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=14993

        Heynes letter stating Southampton referred responsibility for the post to Cecil who appointed Heynes: Cecil Papers in Hatfield House, Volume 16: 1604,10/30/1604, URL http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=112207

        Also some references on the other points:
        ARREST OF SHARPE Report on the Manuscripts of the Family of Gawdy, Formerly of Norfolk, Historical Manuscripts Commission, Eyre and Spottiswoode, London, 1885, pg. 92-93. This letter to Bassingborne Gaudy was at some time misdated as June 7th 1604 as it referred to the arrest of Sharpe a week after the arrest & release of Southampton. Recognizing this the editor put the letter in the proper place by order of the letters. So internal evidence dates the letter to July 1st, but it was typo’d as June 7th & some sources took that to mean “must have meant July 7th” and so claimed HW was arrested on 7/1.

        SHARPE, CAREER & ARRESTS Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Sharpe (Sharp), Leonell (bap. 1650 d 1631) http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/printable/25214

        BERKELEY, CAREER, SOUTHAMPTON ARREST & CALLED BEFORE PRIVY COUNCIL The History of Parliament: Berkeley, Sir Maurice (c. 1577-1617) of Bruton, Som.:
        This too places Southampton’s arrest on July 1st. I believe the July 1st confusion stemmed from the mistaken dating of the letter to Gaudy referenced above because Venetian Ambassador Molino’s letter documented the release of Southampton and friends on June 25th.

      • Well, again, thanks. We are all together in this exciting time, when the old paradigm is crumbling and we begin to enter the struggle to find/accept the right replacement.

  2. The Henries’ friendship it’s, indeed, curious. Some have even proposed Trentham as the Dark Lady and Southampton as Henry de Vere’s biological father… this last point I once approved, not anymore, though I found some evidences that Oxford himself had suspected of his last son’ paternity, born to him in the beginning of his 40’s.

    It’s probable that they were brothers and they knew it. At least Southampton knew and Oxford proclaimed it publicaly for the very first time with his “Venus and Adonis”. “The first heir of my invention” maybe a mention of Oxford’s new pen-name, Shakespeare, and he took the metaphor of the heir from his recently born Henry. I ever ask myself if “Henry” name was given to Oxford’s son because he was great-grandson toHenry VIII (if we believe Oxford was son of Elizabeth and got caught up in an Oedipus-Jocasta-like love affair).

    When to Southampton’s arrest in the night of Oxford’s death/disappearance, what if Cecil thought the event strange and, knowing that if someone had to be involved would be Oxford’s secret son, and wanted to know if Earl was really dead? Looks like Henry de Vere was also conscient of his father’s strange “death”: he only refers to his father as late when talking on his mother’s death in a letter to Cecil in 1613, where he mentions himself as a young orphan.

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