Reason No. 96 Why Oxford = “Shakespeare” — Edward de Vere was with Elizabeth before her Famous Speech to the Troops at Tilbury

Queen Elizabeth the First of England gave her famous speech to the troops at Tilbury, a village on the Thames, at a time when they still believed the Great Enterprise of Phillip II of Spain, the Armada, was about to land. A ruthless military force, convinced of God’s will for it to succeed, was about to conquer England. But in this moment of terror Gloriana appeared in their midst, riding from rank to rank and smiling as the soldiers cheered, before delivering an address to be remembered for all time.

(click on images for larger views.)


The speech, preserved in at least three versions, has been studied from then to now for its rhetorical structure, its simplicity and nobility, its power to inspire and motivate. It has been likened often to the St. Crispin’s Day speech in Henry V, when the king rallies his troops at Agincourt before they head into battle despite the overwhelming odds against them.

This reason to believe Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford was “Shakespeare” is the likelihood that, while Elizabeth certainly inspired him, there can be little doubt that he inspired her as well.


Oxford was with the 55-year-old Queen at Whitehall Palace not long before her visit to Tilbury. The earl had been commanding own ship the Edward Bonaventure, as part of the English fleet led by Lord Admiral Charles Howard, his longtime supporter and close friend, during some of the early fighting against the Armada; but the Bonaventure had been put out of commission, so Oxford left the fleet and arrived on July 27 at the Tilbury camp, reporting to his long-time enemy Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, whom Her Majesty had appointed Supreme Commander of the Army.

The next day Leicester wrote to Secretary Francis Walsingham that Oxford had set off to retrieve his “armor and furniture.” The Supreme Commander wondered where to assign Oxford on land. “I would know from you what I should do,” he wrote. “I trust he be free to go to the enemy [engage in close combat], for he seems most willing to hazard his life in this quarrel.”

(c) Essex County Council; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

When Oxford returned, Leicester told him he was being put in charge of two thousand men at Harwich, a peninsula that promised little if any military action. Leicester wrote again to Walsingham on August 1, reporting that Oxford “seemed at the first to like well of it,” but then “came to me and told me he thought the place of no service or credit…”

We can only imagine the face-to-face confrontation between these two men, whose mutual enmity had finally erupted in the midst of the long-dreaded attempted invasion, the outcome of which would determine England’s future. Emotions were already running high; there was a very real fear that their country might be taken over by the King of Spain and the Pope of Rome, and this fear may have driven Oxford to an act of insubordination.

The Queen with Leicester at Tilbury

The Queen with Leicester at Tilbury

“Clearly Oxford’s motivation was pique,” Alan Nelson scolds him in Monstrous Adversary, “rather than cowardice or subversion; but pique cannot excuse a refusal to obey a superior officer in time of war.”

Rather than accept such an order from this man he thought of as a “villain, villain, smiling, damned villain,” as Hamlet called his uncle, King Claudius, viewed by Oxfordians as representing Leicester, he scoffed at it and hurried away. By August 1, when Leicester was writing to Walsingham about the confrontation, Oxford had returned to London, exclaiming he “would to the court and understand Her Majesty’s further pleasure.”

So Oxford had gone to Whitehall to be with Elizabeth, who was now within a week of making her dramatic speech to the troops at Tilbury. The historical record tells no more of Oxford’s doings until the victory celebration to St. Paul’s on November 24; but what, we may ask, was the substance of his meeting with Elizabeth? How long was he with her at the palace? From what they knew during that week, the conquest of England was very possibly imminent; and in this dire situation, what would they have talked about?

Was it decided right then, between the two of them, that the Queen would go to Tilbury to plead for unity and loyalty?

Elizabeth had been Edward de Vere’s official mother from the time he became a royal ward at twelve in 1562. He had been in her Majesty’s highest favor all during the 1570s and even through his second triumph in the tiltyard, at the great tournament of January 22, 1581. That had been just a few months before his steep fall from grace when his mistress, Anne Vavasour, one of the Queen’s own Maids of Honor, gave birth to his illegitimate son (Sir Edward Vere). Even so he had alerted Elizabeth and Burghley to the treasonous plots of his erstwhile Catholic associates, proving yet again that his loyalty to her had never wavered.

Now in the midst of England’s greatest military crisis, and when Elizabeth herself was in grave danger, she and Oxford would have dropped all petty concerns and shared their old ties and old feelings in the kinds of words and phrases that we should expect to find in speeches from the pen of Shakespeare. Just two years before, in 1586, the earl had been cited by William Webbe as “the most excellent” of poets at court; in the next year, 1589, he will be cited in The Arte of English Poesie as one of the courtiers “who have written excellently well as it would appear if their doings could be found out and made public with the rest.”

(c) Essex County Council; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Elizabeth and Oxford would have understood that this might be their final meeting. In this highly charged circumstance, could they avoid the subject of how she might rally her troops in the face of the Spanish fury? How could Oxford fail to suggest the kind of speech she might make?

Certainly no other candidate for the authorship of Shakespeare was in a position to inspire the Queen to make a positively Shakespearean speech to the army!

When Henry V in Shakespeare’s play addresses his soldiers at Agincourt, he descends to their level as one of them: “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; for he that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother.”

And Elizabeth does the same, telling her troops: “I am come amongst you, as you see, at this time, not for my recreation and disport, but being resolved, in the midst and heat of the battle, to live and die amongst you all.”

King Henry reminds his men of the honor they will gain: “And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by, from this day to the ending of the world, but we in it shall be remembered.”

So, too, Queen Elizabeth at Tilbury, promising: “I myself will be your general, judge, and rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field … I know already, for your forwardness you have deserved rewards and crowns; and We do assure you in the word of a prince, they shall be duly paid to you; [and] we shall shortly have a famous victory.”

[It cam be no coincidence that her promise of a “famous victory” echoes the much earlier play The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth, which Oxfordians feel was written by a young Edward de Vere, and which quite obviously forms the basis of 1 Henry IV, 2 Henry IV and Henry V by Shakespeare.]

Inevitably we should find within Elizabeth’s address at Tilbury some phrases here and there to be found in Shakespeare:

Elizabeth: “Let tyrants fear! I have always so behaved myself that, under God, I have placed my chiefest strength and safeguard in the loyal hearts and goodwill of my subjects.”

Shakespeare in The Comedy of Errors: “Money by me! Heart and goodwill you might.”

Elizabeth: “… and [I] think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any prince of Europe, should dare to invade the borders of my realm.”

Shakespeare in 1 Henry VI: “I owe him little duty, and less love; and take foul scorn to fawn on him by sending.”

The Queen’s most famous statement is her ringing declaration: “I know I have the body of a weak, feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king” – and then there is Portia, wife of Brutus, in Julius Caesar by Shakespeare: “I grant I am a woman; but withal a woman well-reputed, Cato’s daughter. Think you I am no stronger than my sex …?”

So … did the Earl of Oxford help or influence Queen Elizabeth’s speech at Tilbury? A case can be made that “Shakespeare” surely did!

The most-often-cited version of the Queen’s speech was found in a letter from Leonel Sharp sometime after 1624 to the Duke of Buckingham:

My loving people,

We have been persuaded by some that are careful of our safety, to take heed how we commit ourselves to armed multitudes, for fear of treachery; but I assure you I do not desire to live to distrust my faithful and loving people. Let tyrants fear. I have always so behaved myself that, under God, I have placed my chiefest strength and safeguard in the loyal hearts and goodwill of my subjects; and therefore I am come amongst you, as you see, at this time, not for my recreation and disport, but being resolved, in the midst and heat of the battle, to live and die amongst you all; to lay down for my God, and for my kingdom, and my people, my honor and my blood, even in the dust.

I know I have the body of a weak, feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too, and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any prince of Europe, should dare to invade the borders of my realm; to which rather than any dishonour shall grow by me, I myself will take up arms, I myself will be your general, judge, and rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field.

I know already, for your forwardness you have deserved rewards and crowns; and We do assure you on a word of a prince, they shall be duly paid. In the mean time, my lieutenant general shall be in my stead, than whom never prince commanded a more noble or worthy subject; not doubting but by your obedience to my general, by your concord in the camp, and your valour in the field, we shall shortly have a famous victory over these enemies of my God, of my kingdom, and of my people.

Here is the text of Henry the Fifth’s famous speech, starting with Westmoreland’s remark provoking it:

WESTMORELAND: O that we now had here
But one ten thousand of those men in England
That do no work to-day!

KING: What’s he that wishes so?
My cousin Westmoreland? No, my fair cousin;
If we are mark’d to die, we are enow
To do our country loss; and if to live,
The fewer men, the greater share of honour.
God’s will! I pray thee, wish not one man more.
By Jove, I am not covetous for gold,
Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost;
It yearns me not if men my garments wear;
Such outward things dwell not in my desires.
But if it be a sin to covet honour,
I am the most offending soul alive.
No, faith, my coz, wish not a man from England.
God’s peace! I would not lose so great an honour
As one man more methinks would share from me
For the best hope I have. O, do not wish one more!
Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host,
That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart; his passport shall be made,
And crowns for convoy put into his purse;
We would not die in that man’s company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.
This day is call’d the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam’d,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say “To-morrow is Saint Crispian.”
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say “These wounds I had on Crispian’s day.”
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he’ll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words-
Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester-
Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb’red.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day!

Responding to Remarks in the New York Times Book Review about the Shakespeare Authorship Question…

The latest “Bookends” section at the back of the New York Times Book Review (Sunday, June 29, 2014) presents the question: “When we read fiction, how relevant is the author’s biography?” Two writers, Thomas Mallon and Adam Kirsch, give their separate answers, and Mr. Kirsch brings up the matter of Shakespeare, so first allow me to express some general ideas.

It may come as a surprise to some readers that, generally speaking, I don’t much care about the life of the person who wrote the latest novel I’ve enjoyed. I can think of several occasions in the past year when I’ve finished reading a novel and never even considered the author’s biography. It might have been interesting to learn about the lives of those writers, but it wasn’t important to me, much less necessary.

The above point notwithstanding, over the years I’ve loved reading about the event-filled lives of Ernest Hemingway and Scott Fitzgerald and Thomas Wolfe and so on. Of course these particular authors wrote primarily out of their own experiences or observations; to one degree or another, they used their lives as foundations or starting points for works of imagination (as opposed to works of fantasy); and at times it has been extremely rewarding to compare and contrast the life and the work – Hemingway’s life in relation to The Sun Also Rises and Fitzgerald’s painful life in relation to Tender is the Night, to cite two examples.

“At its best,” Mallon writes, “critical interpretation informed by biographical fact can deepen our emotional pleasure in a novel and our intellectual grasp of it as well … I can see example after appreciative example [in book reviews that he himself has written] of how a work of fiction ends up being illuminated by shining light on the author’s life.”

Then we come to Shakespeare, however, and I’m afraid Mr. Kirsch comes down hard on folks (like me) who question the traditional life story of the author. But first:

“There’s poetic justice, and possibly a lesson, in the fact that the greatest English writer is a biographical blank. Scholars continue to write books about the life of William Shakespeare, but eventually these boil down to studies of his work or histories of his times. The few scraps of evidence we possess about him are simply too scanty to make him come to life as an individual.”

Yes, sir, we agree! And what conclusions might we derive from this paucity of evidence?

“To some people, this absence is a scandal or irritant, and they try to fill the blank by insisting, irrationally, that Shakespeare was not Shakespeare but the Earl of Oxford, or someone else we can know more about.”


“But to most readers, I suspect, the unknowability of Shakespeare is a key ingredient in his greatness. ‘Others abide our question. Thou art free,’ wrote Matthew Arnold in his sonnet on the Bard, and this sense that Shakespeare stays one step ahead of us, always knowing more about life and human nature than we do, fits perfectly with his biographical elusiveness.”

Irrationally? Okay, the issue is joined … so let’s see … where to begin?

First, we do not insist that “Shakespeare was not Shakespeare.” That would indeed be irrational. What we have concluded, after considerable effort to acquire information, is that “William Shakespeare” is a pen name, a pseudonym, and that William Shakspere of Stratford upon Avon did not write the great works.

Given that literary and dramatic works of that age were often published anonymously or under various names, such as when Edmund Spenser signed himself “Immerito” on the inside front-matter of The Shepherd’s Calendar in 1579, surely the idea of a pen name is not irrational. How about the poet who called himself “Ignoto”? Or the pamphleteer “Martin Marprelate”, signifying someone out to criticize the Anglican bishops or to “mar” the “prelates”? Surely then the idea of a pseudonym suggesting a warrior shaking the spear of his pen is not irrational. Surely, as well, it might even be rational to want to investigate.

It’s not that we think “Shakespeare wasn’t Shakespeare”; we think “Shakespeare” was an individual other than the Warwickshire man handed down to us by tradition. What’s really irrational is the blind belief in that traditional life story, which itself is the quintessence of irrationality. That story, in human terms, is inexplicable. In effect, it’s a kind of religious belief and requires a miraculous “genius” who, for example, can “imagine” the complex geography, culture and legal system of Italy, down to specific details, without needing to have been there.

We can agree that the lives of some writers are more interesting than others. And that the lives of some writers are more connected to their literary or dramatic works than others. Might we also be able to agree about the basic laws of cause and effect? In this case, the works of “Shakespeare” amount to a multi-faceted, overwhelming effect without any discernible cause – a state of affairs that should alert all rational minds to the possibility of much more beneath the surface than meets the eye, that is, to the suspicion that there may well be a mighty cause equal to this singularly powerful effect.

When I recently watched the Ken Burns documentary film about the life of Samuel Clemens, author of the books attributed to Mark Twain, it became clear that this particular life was so tumultuous, so huge, so filled with extremes of emotional highs and lows, that knowing about it cannot but help us to better understand and appreciate his writings. After glimpsing the pain beneath the humor, the suffering behind the laughter, his words acquire even more power to make us laugh or cry.

Imagine, then, if we knew the name “Mark Twain” but had no idea that the amazing, massive life of Samuel Clemens was alive and breathing beneath it, like Moby Dick swimming and seething with that great whale’s uncommon force beneath the surface! Would it be “irrational” to entertain some glimmer of an idea that we are missing the existence of something of great vitality and even of great importance?

Near the end of his column Adam Kirsch casually states that Shakespeare “as a dramatist camouflaged even his literary personality.” He means, I think, that Shakespeare gave voice to so many varied and distinct characters that his own voice cannot be heard. Well, now, that may be like saying that Mark Twain covered up his own literary personality by creating Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. And really, Mr. Kirsch, do you not suspect, as many scholars over the centuries have suspected, that Prince Hamlet’s speeches must contain some hint of the author’s own voice?

Frank Harris in The Man Shakespeare (1909) looked at the works of the great author from his own standpoint as a writer: “Without a single exception the commentators have all missed the man and the story; they have turned the poet into a tradesman, and the unimaginable tragedy of his life into the commonplace record of a successful tradesman’s career. Even to explain this astounding misadventure of the host of critics is a little difficult … Being without a guide, and having no clear idea of Shakespeare’s character, the critics created him in their own image…”

Harris undertook to find Shakespeare within his works “because he is worth it – the most complex and passionate personality in the world, whether of life or letters.” Shakespeare’s purpose “is surely the same as Montaigne’s, to reveal himself to us, and it would be hasty to decide that his skill is inferior … We are doing Shakespeare wrong by trying to believe that he hides himself behind his work … Sincerity is the birthmark of genius, and we can be sure that Shakespeare has depicted himself for us with singular fidelity; we can see him in his works, if we will take the trouble…”

Not taking the trouble, Harris went on, might have been due to the early nineteenth-century writings of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who “used all his powers to persuade men that Shakespeare was a sort of demi-god who was everyone and no one, a Proteus without individuality of his own. The theory has held the field for nearly a century, probably because it flatters our national vanity; for in itself it is fantastically absurd and leads to the most ridiculous conclusions…

“Like every other man of genius Shakespeare must have shown himself in his qualities and defects, in his preferences and prejudices; ‘a fallible human being,’ as stout Dr. [Samuel] Johnson knew, ‘will fail somewhere.’ Even if Shakespeare tried to hide himself in his work, he could not have succeeded … The time for random assertion about Shakespeare and unlimited eulogy of him has passed away forever …

“A great dramatist may not paint himself for us at any time in his career with all his faults and vices, but when he goes deepest into human nature, we may be sure that self-knowledge is his guide; as Hamlet said, ‘To know a man well, were to know himself,’ thereby justifying the paradox that dramatic writing is merely a form of autobiography. We may take then as a guide this first criterion that, in his masterpiece of psychology, the dramatist will reveal most of his own nature.

“If a dozen lovers of Shakespeare were asked to name the most profound and most complex character in all his dramas it is probable that everyone without hesitation would answer Hamlet … Shakespeare included in himself Falstaff and Cleopatra, beside the author of the sonnets … But when this study is completed, it will be seen that, with many necessary limitations, Hamlet is indeed a revelation of some of the most characteristic traits of Shakespeare.”

One of the essential characteristics of the prince is revealed at the end, within his dying words, when he pours out his grief that history will fail to record what he did (or tried to do) and what happened to him. With his last breath he begs Horatio, his most trusted friend, to “report me and my cause aright, to the unsatisfied … O good Horatio, what a wounded name, things standing thus unknown shall live 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.”

Isn’t it possible that the man behind “Shakespeare” was trying to tell us, through his portrait of Hamlet, that his real name was also “wounded” and destined to be “unknown” after his death? If such were the case, then the matter of Shakespearean authorship would be quite different in its nature than what is commonly perceived – a matter of even more immediate concern to the historian than to the literary critic, for we have now crossed into the realm of state censorship, suppression and even obliteration. Suddenly we are allowing ourselves to confront the possibility that the author himself is still calling out to us, across the divide of more than four centuries, to “report me and my cause aright.”

“Suppose, in brief,” writes Charlton Ogburn Jr. in The Mysterious William Shakespeare (1984), that the dramatist was, like Hamlet, of the highest rank at the Royal Court and “felt he had a mission to expose what was rotten in the state of England. Suppose the plays, if correctly attributed to a courtier close to the throne, would be seen as commentaries on affairs at Court by an insider, as sardonic and mischievous portrayals of highly placed figures and as intimate relations about the author himself unheard of on the part of a nobleman…

“Powerful interests would thus have a stake in keeping the author’s identity hushed up – if they could not shut him up to begin with: ‘Art made tongue-tied by authority,’ the poet bitterly remarks in the Sonnets … Here the question must arise as to what the author’s own feeling would have been about his necessary anonymity. When he cried in the Sonnets, ‘My name be buried where my body is,’ was he voluntarily renouncing the fame that could have been his or was he, sick at heart, acquiescing in a fate pronounced by others?”

Well, either way, we have been alerted to the dangerous but alluring possibility that indeed a Great White Whale lurks beneath the surface, ready at a moment’s notice to roar out of hiding and devour all our dearly held prior assumptions. The danger is real. We must be willing to commit one colossal, life-changing act of simultaneous disillusionment and revelation – somewhat, if you will, going through the experience of the child who finally dares to let go of the fantastical image of a bearded, red-suited man circling the globe on a flying sleigh and, simultaneously, to raise the curtain on a far more complicated (and perhaps less immediately edifying) human reality.

“I, once gone, to all the world must die,” the author wrote in Sonnet 81. Is it irrational to suspect that he knew very well his identity was going to be obliterated from the record? We either can accept it as a true statement, a true and painful cry from the great poet-dramatist himself, or we can sail on, oblivious to the unseen turbulence of life in the ocean depths beneath his text on the page.

You might say it was “irrational” to think the Earth might not be flat. And maybe it was “irrational” to think the Earth might not be the center of the Solar System. Time eventually tells. Meanwhile, history is written by the winners, and the man who was “Shakespeare” defiantly roars against Time the Historian in Sonnet 123:

Thy registers and thee I both defy,
Not wondering at the present, nor the past,
For thy records and what we see doth lie…

But he promises to tell the truth and preserve it for generations to come:

This I do vow, and this shall ever be:
I will be true despite thy scythe and thee.

Christopher Marlowe, Continued: the Fourth and Final Part of Reason 95 to Believe the Earl of Oxford was “Shakespeare”

Queen Elizabeth with the troops at Tilbury as the Spanish armada arrived

Queen Elizabeth with the troops at Tilbury as the Spanish armada arrived

After England destroyed the Spanish armada in the summer of 1588, Edward de Vere the seventeenth Earl of Oxford played a prominent role in the celebratory procession to St. Paul’s Cathedral on the twenty-fourth of November. An observer reported in A Joyful Ballad of the Royal Entrance of Queen Elizabeth into the City of London:

The noble Earl of Oxford then High Chamberlain of England
Rode right before Her Majesty his bonnet in his hand…
And afterwards unto Paul’s cross she did directly pass,
There by the Bishop of Salisbury a sermon preached was;
The Earl of Oxford opening then the windows for her Grace,
The Children of the Hospital she saw before her face.

But this was the end of Oxford’s public life. He soon disappeared from court and public view, retiring to the countryside after selling Vere House and Fisher’s Folly, the latter mansion having provided a London home base for writers in his charge. His wife Anne Cecil had died in June of 1588 and her father, Lord Burghley, as Master of the Court of Wards, instituted procedures against him in early 1589 for his debts dating back at least two decades and amounting to a staggering total of some 22,000 pounds – rendering his annuity of a thousand pounds virtually useless.

William Cecil Lord Burghley

William Cecil
Lord Burghley

[Mostly likely Oxford went to the manor house of Stoke Newington. After that he may have gone to Billesley Hall in the Valley of the Avon, owned by the family of Elizabeth Trussel, the Maid of Honor who became his second wife in 1591. A local legend is that As You Like It was written by “Shakespeare” at Billesley Hall.]

Billesley Hall or Manor

Billesley Hall or Manor

Oxford was the central sun around which the writers revolved, so when he could no longer finance their labors they began to fly out of orbit. The result, directly or indirectly, was the loss of nearly all of them within a span of some five years; for example:

John Lyly, his main secretary and stage manager, lost his job in 1590;
Thomas Lodge escaped poverty by voyaging to South America in 1591;
Thomas Watson died in 1592;
Robert Greene died of dissipation and poverty in September 1592;
Christopher Marlowe was stabbed to death on May 30, 1593;
Thomas Kyd, after being tortured on the rack in 1593, died in 1594.

Oxford’s company of child actors, called Paul’s Boys and/or Oxford’s Boys, was forced by the government to dissolve in 1590; and soon after, writes Eva Turner Clark, “the loud complaints of members of the group are heard; one member dies in poverty; another fails to receive promised preferment; another is killed in a tavern brawl; and others drag on in miserable existence. The goose that lay the Golden Eggs was dead.”

Outcries from the writers took various forms that only certain members of the royal court and the aristocracy might have understood. Thomas Nashe, for example, in his 1589 preface to Greene’s prose work Menaphon entitled To The Gentlemen Students of Both Universities, referred to Oxford as the “English Seneca” who had been forced to “die to our stage” or to abandon his commitment to theatre:

“Yet English Seneca read by candlelight yields many good sentences, as ‘Blood is a beggar,’ and so forth; and if you entreat him fair in a frosty morning, he will afford you whole Hamlets, I should say handfuls, of tragical speeches. But oh grief! Tempus edax rerum: [‘Time, the consumer of all things”] what’s that will last always? The sea exhaled by drops will in continuance be dry, and Seneca, let blood line by line and page by page, at length must needs die to our stage.”

Many Oxfordians believe that Edward de Vere had written the first version of Hamlet by 1585, when he had Marcellus allude to “shipwrights” (builders of wooden vessels) in London who were helping to prepare for the Spanish invasion:

Good now, sit down, and tell me, he that knows,
Why this same strict and most observant watch
So nightly toils the subject of the land,
And why such daily cast of brazen cannon,
And foreign mart for implements of war;
Why such impress of shipwrights, whose sore task
Does not divide the Sunday from the week…

The spectacle of shipbuilding all week and even on Sundays, as the nation braced for war on the home front, would have resonated with an English audience before, but not after, the arrival of the armada in 1588. Meanwhile Nashe was also indirectly reporting that the author of the tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark had been forced to “die to our stage.”

Then at the end of 1590 came registration of the poem Tears of the Muses, attributed to Edmund Spenser, also bemoaning the loss of the great author:

And he, the man whom nature self had made
To mock herself, and truth to imitate,
With kindly counter under mimic sdhade,
Our pleasant Willy, ah! Is dead of late…

But that same gently spirit, from whose pen
Large streams of honey and sweet nectar flow,
Scorning the boldness of such base-born men
Which dare their follies forth so rashly throw,
Doth rather choose to sit in idle cell,
That so himself to mockery to sell.

It was Edward de Vere who (as Hamlet puts it) held the mirror up to “nature” and so “imitate” the “truth” in his work – an echo in passing of his motto Nothing Truer than Truth. Oxford was the great writer who had been “dead of late” and was now choosing to “sit in idle cell” rather than sell himself or his work. In one of his song-verses printed back in The Paradise of Dainty Devices, signed “E.O.” in 1576 and “E. Ox” in subsequent editions, he revealed that “never am less idle, lo, than when I am alone” – that is, he never worked harder than when he was by himself.

Meanwhile in September 1589 two of the writer-spies in Oxford’s circle got into trouble. Marlowe was fighting in the street with an innkeeper’s son, William Bradley, when Watson appeared and drew his sword. Marlowe stepped back, but Bradley leaped toward Watson and wounded him. Watson retreated, but Bradley charged again, so now Watson pierced him deep in the chest, killing him. Both writer-agents were tossed into the Newgate dungeon, but Marlowe was released without charge while a jury eventually ruled that Watson had acted in self-defense. He spent some months in the prison, awaiting “the grace of the Queen” until, on February 10, 1590, he received a pardon.

Queen Elizabeth The Armada Portrait

Queen Elizabeth
The Armada Portrait

The death of Secretary Francis Walsingham on April 6, 1590 sent the world of English espionage into a tailspin of competing factions. The strongest one was controlled by the powerful father-son team of William Cecil Lord Burghley and Robert Cecil. The latter, Oxford’s former brother-in-law, was determined to gain power over the intelligence-gathering apparatus and, too, over the public stage along with its playwrights, play companies and playhouses.

Upon the Secretary’s death some of his spy network fell into the hands of his cousin Thomas Walsingham, who began to lead a kind of rogue operation. Watson and Marlowe both entered Thomas Walsingham’s patronage; and Marlowe continued to travel abroad. As reported first by Nicholl in The Reckoning, in January 1592 Marlowe was lodging with two other English spies in Flushing, a Dutch seaport town ceded to England in return for support against Spanish invaders. On the twenty-sixth of that month, Marlowe was arrested in Flushing as a counterfeiter and deported – a bizarre episode that ended with him returning home as a prisoner to face Burghley in private and answer his questions.

Might it be reasonable to ask how Marlowe found time to write? It appears that whatever his literary and dramatic contributions may have been, they had ceased when Oxford gave up Fisher’s Folly in 1589 and could no longer support the University Wits. In The Mysterious William Shakespeare (1584), Charlton Ogburn Jr. supported the idea that it was Oxford who had discovered Marlowe’s dramatic ability and brought out Tamburlaine in 1587, to teach the people what might be expected of a ruthless conqueror like Philip of Spain; and he continued:

“The relationship between the two playwrights [Oxford and Marlowe] at this time may be taken to account for the similarities in Shakespeare’s early historical dramas to Edward the Second, printed in 1594 as Marlowe’s” – that is, printed with his name after he was murdered. “The supposition would be that the play was an early one of Oxford’s that the Earl turned over in draft to Marlowe to make what he would of it.”

[Ogburn’s mother Dorothy Ogburn had written of “evidence that Edward the Second is a direct forerunner of 2 and 3 Henry the Sixth and of Richard II and is by the same hand, created out of the same consciousness: it is not plagiarized from someone else. There are innumerable correspondences between Edward the Second and these dramas, not only in locutions, imagery and mannerisms, but also in point of view.”]

On April 18, 1593, the long, highly cultured and sophisticated narrative poem Venus and Adonis was entered at the Stationer’s Register in London, without any author’s name.

William Cecil Lord Burghley (l) and his son Robert Cecil (r)

William Cecil Lord Burghley (l) and his son Robert Cecil (r)

On May 30, 1593, Christopher Marlowe was killed in the company of three other spies. Among them was the most important government agent, Robert Poley, who was now working for Burghley and Robert Cecil – the latter being determined to prevent nobles such as Oxford, Essex and Southampton from choosing a successor to Elizabeth, now in her sixtieth year. The only way Robert Cecil could hope to retain power behind the throne, beyond the reign of Elizabeth, was to become the kingmaker.

It appears that Cecil had viewed Kit Marlowe as knowing too many secrets to be trusted, that is, as having been too dangerous to remain alive. In any case, Marlow had never been named as the author of any poem or play during his lifetime.

A few weeks later, in June 1593, Venus and Adonis went on sale. No author’s name appeared on the title page, but the printed signature for the dedication to Southampton carried, for the first time, the name of an otherwise unknown author – William Shakespeare, evoking the image of a warrior-poet shaking the spear of his pen.

Oxford had returned…

“English Seneca” … “Our Pleasant Willy” … was back.

Christopher Marlowe – Part Three of Reason 95 to Conclude that Edward de Vere was “Shakespeare”

“Christopher Marlowe became a scholar of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, whence he graduated B.A. in 1584, and M.A. in 1587. As Tamburlaine was acted in that year, it appears that Marlowe’s academic and his literary life overlapped. Little is certainly known of his later life, apart from the production of his plays and poems. He belonged to a circle of which Sir Walter Raleigh was the center, and which contained men like the Earl of Oxford …” The Chief Elizabethan Dramatists edited by William Allan Neilson, Ph.D., Professor of English, Harvard, 1911

Queen Elizabeth, flanked by Lord Burghley and Sir Francis Walsingham

Queen Elizabeth, flanked by Lord Burghley and Sir Francis Walsingham

Elizabeth I’s chief minister William Cecil, Lord Burghley wrote on June 21, 1586 to spymaster Secretary Francis Walsingham asking if he had spoken with Queen Elizabeth in support of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford. Five days later her Majesty signed a Privy Seal Warrant authorizing an annual grant to Oxford of a thousand pounds – an extraordinary figure, especially since England was at war with Spain and desperately needed funds. The warrant, to be paid each year in quarterly installments, expressly stated that the earl was not to be called on by the Exchequer to render any account as to its expenditure – a clause which, B.M. Ward wrote in his 1928 biography of Oxford, was “the usual formula made use of in the case of secret service money.”

Oxford was playing an important but unpublicized role for Elizabeth, Burghley and Walsingham during these dangerous times when the mighty Spanish armada was about to appear on the horizon at any moment. The earl had made extensive sales of land between 1580 and 1585, indicating he had been personally financing writers and play companies, so now the otherwise frugal and even stingy Queen was compensating him for past as well as future expenses.

Walsingham caused the Queen's Men to be created in 1583

Walsingham caused the Queen’s Men to be created in 1583

Such was also the case with Walsingham himself, who had spent a decade financing England’s first official secret service all on his own, paying informants and going broke in the process. In the summer of 1582, however, the Queen, finally realizing she should invest regular sums of public money on intelligence, signed a warrant under the Privy Seal granting the Secretary a sum of 750 pounds per annum in quarterly installments – another formula to be followed exactly in Oxford’s case. In 1583 Walsingham caused the Queen’s Men acting company to be formed to promote patriotic unity during wartime, with two troupes performing around the countryside. In 1585, upon the outbreak of war with Spain in the Netherlands, annual payments to Walsingham rose to two thousand pounds; and it is “at this stage of increased funding and activity,” Charles Nicholl writes in The Reckoning, “that Marlowe enters the lower ranks of the intelligence world.”

Oxfordian researcher Eva Turner Clark writes in Hidden Allusions (1931) that the group of writers known as the University Wits went into high gear of activity during 1586 and 1587. These younger men have been viewed as those who “paved the way” for Shakespeare in the 1590s, but Clark argues that Oxford himself was the great author who, later, would revise his own plays under the “Shakespeare” pen name. The younger men in the 1580s, following Oxford’s example, were “his pupils and imitators.”


“Play after play flowed from their pens,” Clark writes. “These were chronicle plays, revenge plays, Senecan plays – mostly plays calculated to keep people at a high pitch of excitement during war time. Gathering this group of writers together, directing their work, and producing their plays on the stage was the function of the secret service office that Lord Oxford filled and upon which he spent the money that had been granted to him … In order to keep a heavy program going, he [and Burghley] appealed to recent graduates of Oxford and Cambridge, and even to those on the point of graduation, who gave promise of dramatic ability, to assist in this important work of stage propaganda.”

“Lord Oxford, as a prolific writer and scholar, an eclectic, devotee of the theatre, generous patron of literary men and musicians, drew into his orbit the best writers and wits of the day,” write Dorothy and Charlton Ogburn in This Star of England (1952). “He was the center and prime inspiration of the University Wits: such men as Lyly, Watson, Kyd and Munday – all of whom he employed – Greene, Peele, Marston, Dekker, Lodge, Nashe, Marlowe.

“Somewhat older than most of them [fourteen years Marlowe’s senior], infinitely greater than any, he attracted these intellectuals as a magnet attracts steel chips; and … he supported, encouraged, and directed these men, broadening their classics-bound culture through his knowledge of Italian, German, and French literature, as well as of feudal customs and the ways of court-life, while devoting his abundant creative energies to the production of dramas which not only entertained and stimulated the elect but also delighted and edified the intelligent though unschooled.”

Philip II of Spain  1527-1598

Philip II of Spain

Oxford had purchased the London mansion known as Fisher’s Folly to provide writing space for the younger men (Nashe referred to a “college of writers”), who apparently had been turning out anti-Spanish plays for at least several months before the Queen authorized the earl’s annual grant. On July 20, 1586 the Venetian ambassador in Spain (Hieronimo Lippomano) wrote to the Doge and Senate that King Philip had been furious over reports about plays being performed at the Elizabethan court: “But what has enraged him more than all else, and has caused him to show a resentment such as he has never displayed in all his life, is the account of the masquerades and comedies which the Queen of England orders to be acted at his expense.”

During the second half of 1586, after Walsingham had foiled the Babington plot to put the captive Mary Queen of Scots on the English throne, Oxford sat on the tribunal at her trial in October 1586, when she was found guilty of treason. Mary Stuart, mother of twenty-year-old King James of Scotland, was beheaded on February 8, 1587 at Fortheringay Castle. This virtually ensured that King Philip, with the blessings of the Pope, would send his armada to conquer England.

Portrait of Elizabeth in the 1580s

Portrait of Elizabeth in the 1580s

On June 29, 1587 the Privy Council sent orders (signed by Burghley and Archbishop Whitgift of Canterbury) to Cambridge authorities that Marlowe should receive his Master’s degree, despite frequent absences from the campus amid rumors he was a Catholic traitor – which is what he seems to have pretended to be, as part of secret service work, during visits to the English College at Rheims in Northern France, a key seminary for Catholic defectors. The Council certified that Marlowe had “behaved himself orderly and discreetly whereby he had done her Majesty good service, and deserved to be rewarded for his faithful dealings … because it was not her Majesty’s pleasure that anyone employed as he had been in matters touching the benefit of his Country should be defamed by those that are ignorant in the affairs he went about.” In a letter to Burghley on October 2, 1587, Marlowe was named as a courier in dispatches to Secretary Walsingham from Utrecht in Holland – indicating that after leaving Cambridge his travels for intelligence work were continuing apace.

The traditional story of Marlowe as a playwright is that he came down to London in the latter months of 1587 and quickly became the most distinguished English dramatist, even though he was never credited in print as an author until after his death little more than five years later.


“Since Marlowe was born in 1564,” Warren Dickinson writes in The Wonderful Shakespeare Mystery (2001), “his initial box office hit, Tamburlaine I, was first played when he was only twenty-three years old. While this testifies to Marlowe’s genius, it also indicates that he did not act alone. A young man cannot ride into London and have a hit play within a year unless he has a patron and a mentor. In fact, Marlowe went to work in Edward de Vere’s ‘play factory’ in 1586 and received the guidance and support which he needed. Since Edward de Vere was already a highly successful playwright-poet [at thirty-seven], it was natural for Marlowe to use him as a model in his writing. He may also have been influenced by the fact that de Vere was paying his salary.”

My feeling is that Oxford was giving Marlowe a kind of “cover” in London, according to the needs of Burghley and Walsingham, by taking him under his wing as a writer. To what degree Marlowe actually wrote the works for which he is credited is still, for me, a matter of conjecture – although some notable Oxfordians have already declared outright that it was Oxford who wrote those works.

World War Two Propaganda to Inspire Unity of Management and Labor

World War Two Propaganda to Inspire Unity of Management and Labor

In any case the phenomenon of “Shakespeare” was forged out of the fires of wartime. Behind the rise of the mighty warrior shaking the spear of his pen was a domestic army of literary men and artists of various kinds, all inspired and guided by their leader, Edward de Vere. Finally young men from different parts of the country — Protestants and Catholics alike, speaking different dialects that needed to be translated — descended upon London in the summer of 1588, volunteering to join together in the face of a common enemy.

The great director Frank Capra during WWII

The great director Frank Capra during WWII

[Such a “public relations” effort would be used by the United States government’s media operations during World War Two, providing work for many writers, photographers and filmmakers, enabling them to sharpen their talents and skills.]

But England’s defeat of the Spanish armada was followed by a shameful episode that might be called a “bloodbath” of those same writers. To put it simply, the government — having utilized their services, in helping England survive — suddenly (a) no longer felt the same need of them and (b) became afraid of their freedom to express themselves along with their power to influence the public. After defeating the enemy without, the government focused on enemies within.

Screenwriters, actors and directors were blacklisted and even jailed for being under suspicion as enemies of the U.S.

Screenwriters, actors and directors were blacklisted for being under suspicion as enemies of the U.S.

[Again a comparison with U.S. history in the twentieth century appears to be in order –- the blacklisting of writers and filmmakers after WWII, during the McCarthy era of the 1950s.]

The fourth and final part of Reason 95 to conclude that Oxford was “Shakespeare” will continue the story from 1589 through the high point of the “bloodbath” — the political assassination of Marlowe on May 30, 1593, followed by the first appearance of “William Shakespeare” shortly afterward in June.


ver begin 2 larger

Ver, begin by Ricardo Mena will be recognized as a milestone on the path toward understanding the Elizabethan age and the phenomenon of “Shakespeare” … Here is the most complete, most in-depth rendering to date of the biographical and historical truths that have remained hidden beneath the Shakespeare myth … Ricardo Mena takes us on a guided tour to the otherwise invisible heart of the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras; and let it be proclaimed that no previous scholar, no researcher, no author before now has dared to travel so far beneath the surface of the recorded history and the surviving literature. No one till now has maintained the clarity of vision that is shared with us in these pages.

Ricardo Mena

Ricardo Mena

The result is an unprecedented synthesis of various strands of evidence, all woven into a grand sweep of narrative that spans the golden age of the English Renaissance, informing us about our own history and about the forces that have helped to shape our current civilization … The debates over “Shakespeare” that began in the 1800s and continued all through the twentieth century are now bearing fruit; and Ver, begin marks the first real attempt to construct (or reconstruct) the full story, integrating all its pieces so they fit together and make sense, even as each aspect sheds new light on the others. This book is about not only knowing the truth, but, in the end, about understanding it.

This is a Kindle Book available in English on Amazon. I recommend reading it — and having it as an important resource — along with Shakespeare’s Lost Kingdom by Charles Beauclerk.

Part Two of Reason 95: Christopher Marlowe and Why Oxford was “Shakespeare”

Christopher Marlowe was one of the “university wits” recruited from Cambridge and Oxford by the Elizabethan government, during the 1580s, to serve as informants or spies for its wartime intelligence service. These young men also worked as secretaries-scribes-writers under the financial support of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, who provided them with writing space and materials as well as plots, themes, language and even entire works to be published either anonymously or under names that were either fictitious or their own.

This portrait may be of Christopher Marlowe ... Made in 1585, it was found at Corpus Christi College, where Marlowe was a student that year at age twenty-one

This portrait may be of Christopher Marlowe …
Made in 1585, it was found at Corpus Christi College, where Marlowe was a student that year at age twenty-one

“During his studies at Cambridge,” Daryl Pinksen writes in Marlowe’s Ghost: The Blacklisting of the Man Who was Shakespeare (2008), “perhaps as early as 1585, Marlowe was recruited into the English secret service headed at that time by Secretary of State Sir Francis Walsingham.” Records indicate a “marked increase of spending” as if he “suddenly had a new source of income” and “frequent absences from Cambridge beginning in 1585 for longer and longer periods, also consistent with work as an intelligence agent …

Francis Walsingham  Secretary of State and England's Spymaster

Francis Walsingham
Secretary of State and
England’s Spymaster

“Lord Burghley, England’s Lord Treasurer – and the de facto head of the Privy Council, the governing body of England – was also Chancellor of Cambridge, and worked closely with Walsingham in directing and funding intelligence operations. During Marlowe’s years at Cambridge it is likely he made numerous trips, perhaps to the continent, at the behest of Walsingham and Burghley to spy for his country.”

William Cecil  Lord Burghley

William Cecil
Lord Burghley

Marlowe received a Bachelor’s degree in 1584, but a few years later Cambridge authorities heard rumors that he was collaborating with Catholic enemies of Queen Elizabeth. The whispers of treason, Pinksen suggests, had been “instigated by Marlowe himself as part of an effort to entrap Catholic sympathizers, part of a mandate given him by Walsingham and Burghley.” So when the university hesitated to give Marlowe his Master’s degree in 1587, the Council sent a written command to confer it upon him because he had “done her Majesty good service, and deserved to be rewarded for his faithful dealing.”

“In the fast-expanding arena of Elizabethan espionage, writers were an obvious source of recruits,” explains Charles Nicholl in The Reckoning: The Murder of Christopher Marlowe. “They were intelligent, educated, observant young men. They knew the international language, Latin, and the literary tastes of the day gave them a good smattering of French and Italian.” They were geographically and socially mobile, as well as continually in need of cash, so “it is perhaps not surprising that a number of Elizabethan writers crop up in the files of the intelligence services, both foreign and domestic. They are remembered as poets, pamphleteers and playwrights, but down there in the reality of their lives they had to profess other skills if they were to survive.”

Edward de Vere 17th Earl of Oxford

Edward de Vere
17th Earl of Oxford

Nicholl mentions writers such as Anthony Munday and John Lyly, both working from the late 1570s as Edward de Vere’s private secretaries, and he devotes a single chapter to “another poet glimpsed in the secret world of the 1580s … an elusive and engaging figure” – Thomas Watson, who was “a close friend of Marlowe” as well as of Lyly and others. Watson also worked under the patronage of Oxford, to whom in 1582 he dedicated Hekatompathia, or the Passionate Century of Love , a 100-sonnet sequence that the earl had “favorably perused” when it was “as yet but in written hand.”

There is increasing evidence that many if not all of the works attributed to Thomas Watson were in fact written by the earl himself; but for Reason 95 the point is that Watson can be viewed as one of many “intermediaries” linking Oxford and Marlowe by just one “degree of separation” – making the odds overwhelmingly in favor of Edward de Vere and Christopher Marlowe not only knowing each other but working together on plays such as Tamburlaine the Great, Parts One and Two and on poems such as Hero and Leander. But it would not have been an equal relationship; Lord Oxford, being some fourteen years Marlowe’s senior, would have been guiding the younger man in various ways.

In 1564, the year of Christopher Marlowe’s birth, Oxford received his honorary degree from Cambridge at fourteen; in 1575, when Marlowe turned eleven, Oxford was twenty-five and spending a year in Italy; and in 1581, when Marlowe entered Cambridge at seventeen, Oxford, at thirty-one, was already recruiting young disciples who, during wartime, would help achieve the great renaissance of English literature and drama leading up to “Shakespeare” in the 1590s. The truth about Marlowe becomes clear only when viewed within the context of the crucial chapter of England’s history in which he appears; and it begins with Oxford’s pivotal role at the center of those former and current students who helped create a new language, a new cultural and national identity, leading to a strong sense of English pride and patriotic fervor.

Philip II of Spain

Philip II of Spain

England’s naval forces turned back King Philip’s armada of 150 ships carrying 30,000 troops intent on conquering the island nation, crushing the humanistic spirit of the Renaissance and overturning the Protestant Reformation. If any single aspect of English life created the immediate, fertile ground from which “Shakespeare” sprang, it was that prolonged expectation of the dreaded invasion. Once the Anglo-Spanish war became official in 1584, the arrival of the armada loomed ever closer; and during the crucial four years that followed, Burghley and Walsingham were determined to employ “the media” – books, pamphlets, ballads, speeches and, above all, plays (especially plays of royal history) promoting unity in the face of religious and political conflicts threatening to render England too weak to survive.

The phenomenon of “Shakespeare” involves not only the solitary figure of Edward de Vere; it includes an array of those other figures who wrote works for him or with him or who even simply lent their names to creations that were entirely his. These others contribute to a body of work that is much larger than the high priests of academia have allowed “Shakespeare” to claim. As we should expect in the case of the world’s greatest and most influential writer in English, or perhaps in any other language, his labors ripple out to include a vast body of translation as well as original poetry, prose, stage works, dramatic literature, song lyrics, musical compositions, political tracts – all presented anonymously or under different names of real persons living or dead and, too, of fictitious persons whose “biographies” are skimpy and tentative at best.

England defeats the Spanish Armada - 1588

England defeats the Spanish Armada – 1588

Christopher Marlowe fits into this picture as one of Oxford’s satellite figures who may – or may not! – have contributed his own literary labors to anonymous works such as Tamburlaine. (All works later attributed to Marlowe were either unpublished or anonymous during his brief lifetime until 1593.) This work, actually two separate plays, could well have been written much earlier by a much younger Oxford, who could have given it to Marlowe (who was twenty-three in 1587) to work on; and it was performed on the public stage before the armada sailed in 1588. The speeches roused audiences to a fever pitch; the character of Tamburlaine, according to Frederick Boas, seemed to Englishmen to embody Philip of Spain himself. He is, after all, a tyrant calling himself master of the lands and seas, confident he will conquer “all the ocean by the British shore” and that “by this means I’ll win the world at last!”

tamburlaine poster

Such arrogant confidence and raging, bloodthirsty ambition might well have served to further alarm Englishmen over the danger they faced from Philip II of Spain and, thereby, might have further motivated them to join together to defeat the armada.

Part Three will continue this story, explaining in more detail how Christopher Marlowe contributes to the evidence that “Shakespeare” was Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford.

Hillary Rodham Clinton on Shakespeare — “I’m Curious to See Who Would Show Up”

New York Times: “You’re hosting a literary dinner party. Which three writers are invited?”

Hillary Clinton: “I’d choose to have one guest for a long dinner: William Shakespeare. I’m curious to see who would show up and what he really wrote.”

That was the former secretary of state’s answer to the “By the Book” editors at the New York Times today, 11 June 2014, while promoting her new book Hard Choices.

Full interview online is here:

(Thanks to Lee Durkee for calling our attention to this on Facebook.)

I call this progress!

Can you imagine Edward de Vere showing up for dinner? And conversing with Hillary and Bill?

I know some delicate questions they might ask him…

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