“Were’t Ought to Me I Bore the Canopy” – the Funeral of Elizabeth I, the Dark Lady of the Sonnets

“On 28 April 1603, more than a month after her death, Elizabeth’s body was taken in procession to Westminster Abbey. It was an impressive occasion: the hearse was drawn by four horses hung with black velvet, and surmounted by a life-size wax effigy of the late Queen, dressed in her state robes and crown, an orb and scepter in its hands; over it was a canopy of estate supported by six earls.” – Alison Weir, The Life of Elizabeth, 1998

Our continuing demonstration of Elizabeth I of England in the Sonnets now includes the clear reference to her funeral procession in Sonnet 125:

Were’t ought to me I bore the canopy,

With my extern the outward honoring…

No, let me be obsequious in thy heart…

funeral of Eliza

“Canopy – a cloth covering, carried tent-like over the head of a dignitary in a ceremonial procession … Through its relation to ‘obsequy,’ ‘funeral,’ obsequious had the specialized meaning ‘dutiful in performing funeral rites,’ and invites a reader to think of the canopy as borne in a funeral procession.” – Stephen Booth, Shakespeare’s Sonnets, 1977

Sonnet 125 occurs immediately before the “envoy” at the end of the long opening sequence to the so-called Fair Youth, whom we identify as Henry Wriothesley, third Earl of Southampton.  As noted in The Monument, there are nineteen sonnets and nineteen days from Sonnet 107 on 10 April 1603 (when Southampton was released from the Tower) to Sonnet 125 on 28 April 1603, the date of Elizabeth’s funeral (when the end of the Tudor dynasty was official) – or exactly one sonnet per day, and surely not a coincidence.

The bitterness of “Shakespeare” toward the Queen reflects Oxford’s own bitterness toward the female monarch he had served, adding to our evidence that Elizabeth is also the Dark Lady of Sonnets 127 to 152, wherein he rages at her in lines such as those at the end of Sonnet 147: “For I have sworn thee fair, and thought thee bright,/ Who art as black as hell, as dark as night.”

“If, then, we take Sonnet 125 as being the Earl of Oxford’s expression of his private feelings relative to Queen Elizabeth’s funeral, we can quite understand his not troubling to honor her with any special verses (under his own name or that of “Shakespeare”).” – John Thomas Looney, “Shakespeare” Identified, 1920

Sonnet 125

Wer’t ought to me I bore the canopy,

With my extern the outward honoring,

Or laid great bases for eternity

Which proves more short than waste or ruining?

Have I not seen dwellers on form and favor

Lose all and more by paying too much rent

For compound sweet; Forgoing simple savor,

Pitiful thrivers in their gazing spent?

No, let me be obsequious in thy heart,

And take thou my oblation poor but free,

Which is not mixed with seconds, knows no art,

But mutual render only me for thee.

   Hence, thou suborn’d Informer, a true soul

   When most impeached stands least in thy control.

(The “suborned informer” is Time itself, or the Official Record created by those in power, who are liars; and Oxford is saying: No, Time, you will not crush me, because this “monument” containing the Truth will endure and be triumphant.)

(Oxfordians have had some discussion of whether Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford was officially entitled to “bear the canopy” during Queen Elizabeth’s funeral procession. In my view, however, that discussion misses the essential point – that Oxford is using this great occasion as a clear “historical marker” within his “monument” of verse for posterity, and, too, using it as the allegorical or metaphorical basis upon which to record his true thoughts and feelings for future generations.  The end of the Tudor dynasty is, in fact, the end of his story.)

The List to Date:

1 – Sonnet 76: “Ever the Same” – the Queen’s motto in English

2 – Sonnet 25: “The Marigold” – the Queen’s flower

3 – Sonnet 131: “Commanded by the Motion of Thine Eyes” – to a monarch

4 – Sonnet 1: “Beauty’s Rose” – the Queen’s dynasty of the Tudor Rose

5 – Sonnet 107: “the Mortal Moon” – Queen Elizabeth as Diana, the chaste moon goddess

6 – Sonnet 19: “The Phoenix” – the Queen’s emblem

7 – Sonnet 151: “I Rise and Fall” – the courtier as sexual slave to his Queen

8 – Sonnet 128: “Those Jacks that Nimble Leap” – recalling the Queen at her virginals

9 – Sonnet 153: “Against Strange Maladies a Sovereign Cure” – the Queen’s touch

10 – Sonnet 154: “Sleeping by a Virgin Hand Disarmed” – the Virgin Queen

11 – Sonnet 125: “Were’t Ought to Me I Bore the Canopy” – Elizabeth’s funeral

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13 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. “Hence, thou suborn’d Informer, a true soul
    When most impeached stands least in thy control.”

    Quick Google for impeached def
    …synonyms: indict, charge, accuse, lay charges against, arraign, take to court, put on trial, prosecute…
    charge with treason or another crime against the state.*****
    late Middle English (also in the sense ‘hinder, prevent’; earlier as empeche ): from Old French empecher ‘impede,’ from late Latin impedicare ‘catch, entangle’ (based on pedica ‘a fetter,’ from pes, ped- ‘foot’). Compare with impede.

    I do wonder if suborn’d informer refers to the Earl of Lincoln who had informed on Oxford before Elizabeth died. To paraphrase, a truthful person (true soul) when accused of a crime against the state (when most impeached) stands least in the suborned informer’s control. Do you have a date estimate on Sonnet 125 based on your system, Hank? I wonder if this was written when Oxford was dealing with the letters Lincoln sent to James accusing him of plotting against succession.

  2. I would add that the sonnet writer clearly thought himself to be unimpeachable when it came to the lying informant’s (suborn’d informer’s) charges.

    That is evidently what James decided when it came to Lincoln’s accusations against “Great Oxford”.

  3. Great arguments, Hank.
    As to the Informer: it’s Robert Cecil. The Queen and RC were the two who in the end were responsible for Henry’s not becoming King Henry.

    • I’m sure suborned informer fit Cecil but Lincoln was documented to have sent two letters north to James accusing Oxford of conspiring to thwart the king’s ascension. He persistently tried to link Oxford to the French in this matter. One of those letters was sent via Lincoln’s son Thomas Clinton who in 1584 had married Elizabeth Knyvett whose older sister Catherine was already married to Thomas Howard, future Earl of Suffolk, nephew of Henry Howard. These ladies were first cousins of Anne Vavasour and nieces of Sir Thomas Knyvett who injured Oxford in a street duel.

      So Thomas Clinton the letter carrier was linked with this faction. Suffolk was Elizabeth’s “Good Thomas” and was a very close ally to his uncle Henry Howard and to Robert Cecil and the three would ascend to the height of power under James I as his “Trinity of Knaves” (the king’s words, not mine).

      These are the facts, though the accusation was baseless as we know and as James must have recognized, seeing that he favored Oxford. So this background was why I was wondering about a possible date range for that sonnet.

      • This is great information and new to me. Not sure it relates to the informer of Sonnet 125, but I did not know of any letters by Lincoln except for the report he made (to Peyton, I believe). Why, by the way, do you think he wrote to the Lt. of the Tower? He sent two directly to James? Have you published them? Whatever the case, great work, and please keep us posted on it.

      • I had missed that Hank does line that sonnet up with the funeral. Sorry Hank! That makes sense whether you think he may have participated in the funeral (despite being taken off the list to perform his official duties) or wonder, as I do, whether he was being shut out by the reigning faction.

      • The place here is not enough to explain in full detail my arguments. I have hundreds of pages of discoveries, a great part dealing with Robert Cecil, as the central character of the sonnets and the plays as well. Actually he was Caliban in The Tempest. We know that at the end of the play he plotted with Trinculo and Sebastiano against Prospero.
        THIS informer is Caliban, alias Robert Cecil:, the greatest enemy of the Earl, to whom the Earl wrote with all the hate he could have:

        “Hence, thou suborned informer! a true soul
        When most impeached stands least in thy control.”

        Say, one might count the “Hence!” calls in The Tempest, addressed to Caliban.

        I hope the world will be interested in my deeds, just as Mr. Andrew Gurr was.

  4. As Lord Great Chamberlain of England Oxford’s duties required him to hold the keys of Westminster Hall and supervise the ceremonies that were held there. These included the state opening of Parliament. On such occasions it was Oxford’s duty to greet the Queen with his team of canopy bearers outside the Hall, escort her Inside and attend to her security and comfort while she was there. He was in effect uniquely responsible for and in command of the canopy bearers on these occasions whom he led in and out of the Hall carrying his white staff. The Lord great Chamberlain of England enjoys the same privileges today.

    • Thanks my good friend. Looking forward to more shared adventures.

  5. Impressive again, Hank! Your interpretation of the Sonnets is hermetical to me.

    Kind regards,


    2016-04-01 23:45 GMT+02:00 Hank Whittemores Shakespeare Blog :

    > hankwhitt posted: ““On 28 April 1603, more than a month after her death, > Elizabeth’s body was taken in procession to Westminster Abbey. It was an > impressive occasion: the hearse was drawn by four horses hung with black > velvet, and surmounted by a life-size wax effigy of the” >

  6. <>

    He visited Lt. Peyton (a friend of Southampton) at the tower at least three times over a period of six weeks but yes he sent two letters north, one carried by his son (without mentioning a word to Peyton). Lincoln was also the stepfather of Lord Norrys (Oxford’s son-in-law) so this really was an unpleasant business. I’ll blog it with references for you.

    • Hi Hank. I wrote up the Peyton Investigation and the Main and Bye Plots together because the one is background for the other. Lots of new stuff in there for Oxfordians. http://wp.me/p4BQlI-t7

      • Hi – it looks great. Will spread the word! I haven’t finished and need to read over a couple of times. Great work.

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