Sonnet 130 — a Venomous and Treasonous Blast at Queen Elizabeth, the Dark Lady

Sonnet 130 within SHAKE-SPEARES SONNETS of 1609 presents a tangible link to Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, adding more evidence that the tyrannical and deceitful Dark Lady is none other than Elizabeth the First of England.

An allegorical portrait of Elizabeth I painted after 1620

An allegorical portrait of Elizabeth I painted after 1620

The story of Sonnet 130 begins in 1582, when Oxford was in banishment from court and trying to regain her favor.  That year Thomas Watson published Hekatompathia, or the Passionate Century of Love, a sequence of 100 consecutively numbered eighteen-line sonnets.  He dedicated this work to Oxford, his patron, thanking him for “perusing” the work in manuscript and giving it his blessing.  Some Oxfordians suggest it was the earl himself who crafted the “prose headers” explaining the poems; others speculate that he wrote the entire work.  Whatever the case, Oxford was deeply involved in Watson’s sonnet sequence and took a personal interest in its contents and publication.

And while Oxford used court plays of the 1580s attributed to his secretary John Lyly as a way of flattering the Queen, it appears he was using the Watson-attributed poems for the same reason; for example, Sonnet 7 of the 1582 series is obviously directed at Elizabeth, its opening line referring to “what saint I serve” – that is, the “divinely anointed” female monarch whose loyal subjects “serve” her with devotion.  As Oxford wrote to his father-in-law Burghley two years later, “I serve Her Majesty…”

Passionate Century’s Sonnet 7 amounts to a gorgeous rendering of effusive tributes to Elizabeth:

Hark you that list to hear what saint I serve:

Her yellow locks exceed the beaten gold;

Her sparkling eyes in heav’n a place deserve;

Her forehead high and fair of comely mold;

Her words are music all of silver sound;

Her wit so sharp as like can scarce be found;

Each eyebrow hangs like Iris in the skies;

Her Eagle’s nose is straight of stately frame;

On either cheek a Rose and Lily lies…

One of the Queen’s mottos was Rose without a Thorn; and, for example, Archbishop Cranmer in Henry VIII (5.5) predicts that the infant Elizabeth will be “a most unspotted lily” in later life.  Her grandfather, Henry VII, had created the House of Tudor by combining the red and white roses of Lancaster and York: “The red rose and the white are on his face, the fatal colors of our striving houses” — (Henry VI, 2.6.97-98); and this red-and-white Tudor theme is blatant in the 1582 sonnet as it now proceeds:

Her breath is sweet perfume, or holy flame;

Her lips more red than any Coral stone;

Her neck more white than aged Swans that moan;

Her breast transparent is, like Crystal rock;

Her fingers long, fit for Apollo’s Lute;

Her slipper such as Momus dare not mock;

Her virtues all so great as make me mute:

What other parts she hath I need not say,

Whose face alone is cause of my decay.

After twenty-six months Elizabeth finally lifted Oxford’s banishment, in early June 1583, when Roger Manners reported that de Vere “came to her presence, and after some bitter words and speeches, in the end all sins are forgiven, and he may repair to the Court at his pleasure.”  (For him to engage in “bitter words and speeches” with this supremely vain monarch, he must have felt mighty close to her!)

Now we jump nearly two decades ahead, to the weeks following the failed Essex Rebellion of 8 February 1601, when Elizabeth was holding Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton in the Tower of London to await his execution for high treason; and Oxford must have believed that Southampton was about to follow Essex to the chopping block.

As demonstrated in The Monument, the so-called Dark Lady series (Sonnets 127-152) corresponds to the period of Southampton’s imprisonment up to the Queen’s death on 24 March 1603.  Here he expresses his fury at Elizabeth, for not (yet) commuting Wriothesley’s death sentence; and in Sonnet 130 of the 1609 quarto Oxford completely reverses Watson’s sonnet number 7.

[It is doubtful, though not impossible, that Oxford circulated a single one of the Dark Lady sonnets to anyone, much less to the aged Queen.   All sonnets related to 1601-03 are part of Oxford’s “monument” for “eyes not yet created” (81) in posterity, a monument to contain “the living record” (55) of Southampton, i.e. his true history, which otherwise was being obliterated.]

When placed together, the earlier lines of 1582 and the later lines of 1601 are akin to a bold “rhyming match” between the worshipful earlier voice and the seething, vicious, even treasonous later voice:

1582: “Her sparkling eyes in heaven a place deserve”

1601: “My Mistress’ eyes are nothing like the Sunne”


1582: “Her lips more red than any Coral stone”

1601: “Coral is far more red than her lips’ red”


1582: “Her neck more white than aged Swans that moan … Her breast transparent is, like Crystal rock”

1601: “If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun”


1582: “Her yellow locks exceed the beaten gold”

1601: “If hair be wires, black wires grow on her head”


1582: “On either cheek a Rose and Lily lies”

1601: “I have seen Roses damasked, red and white,/ But no such Roses see I in her cheeks”


1582: “Her breath is sweet perfume, or holy flame”

1601: “And in some perfumes is there more delight/ Than in the breath that from my Mistress reeks”


1582: “Her words are music all of silver sound”

1601: “I love to hear her speak, yet well I know/ That Music hath a far more pleasing sound”


Here is the full verse as by “Shake-speare” in the Dark Lady series, surely a reversal by Oxford of his own early feelings toward his sovereign:

Sonnet 130

My Mistress’ eyes are nothing like the Sunne

Coral is far more red than her lips’ red.

If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun:

If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head:

I have seen Roses damasked, red and white,

But no such Roses see I in her cheeks,

And in some perfumes is there more delight

Than in the breath that from my Mistress reeks.

I love to hear her speak, yet well I know

That Music hath a far more pleasing sound:

I grant I never saw a goddess go.

My Mistress when she walks treads on the ground,

And yet by heaven I think my love as rare

As any she belied with false compare.


[In the couplet above, he is stating that any comparison of “she” (the Queen) with the “rare” qualities of “my love” (Southampton) is false; that is, she can’t compare with him.]


A volume of thirty-eight sonnets about “Diella” (as distinguished from Samuel Daniels’ “Delia” sonnets), published in 1596 and thought to have been written by Richard Linche, contains three sonnets (numbers 3, 22 and 31) with similarities to Watson’s number 7 of Passionate Century of Love, 1582.  As Alexander Waugh has pointed out, Oxford must have seen that sonnet, too, and even drawn upon it for his reversal.

The list of Dark Lady references to date, compiled by sonnet number:

In the Fair Youth series:

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

2 – Sonnet 2: “Proving his beauty by succession” — the succession to Elizabeth 

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

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

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

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

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

In the Dark Lady series:

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

9 – Sonnet 130: “My Mistress’ eyes are nothing like the Sunne” – Oxford’s anger at her as Southampton faces execution

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

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

12 – Sonnet 152: “Thy love, thy truth, thy constancy” – Echo of Oxford’s sonnet to Elizabeth

The Bath Epilogue:

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

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

Second Edition (Revised Text) of “Hidden in Plain Sight” by Peter Rush

Rush Cover Second Edition

A brilliant & cogent exploration of THE MONUMENT by Hank Whittemore

“Hidden in Plain Sight” is available here at…

“The Monument” is available here at…

The Literary Patronage of Edward de Vere, Seventeenth Earl of Oxford – Excerpts from a Master’s Thesis


Following are excerpts from Jonni Koonce Dunn’s Master of Arts in English thesis The Literary Patronage of Edward de Vere, the Seventeenth Earl of Oxford, presented in 1999 at the University of Texas, Arlington.  I attended Ms. Dunn’s talk that year at the Shakespeare Authorship conference at Concordia University, Portland OR, and since then she has made her 93-page thesis available to an Oxfordian group on Facebook.  These excerpts merely scratch the surface of an important work that, in my view, deserves the widest circulation:

“With nearly forty percent of [the Earl of Oxford’s] patronage expended on fiction with an Italian flavor, de Vere provided the late sixteenth century with a body of source works to which the literature of the English Renaissance is sorely indebted.”

“By the end of his life in 1604, some thirty-three dedications had been made to him, an unusually large proportion of which were literary as opposed to utilitarian or devotional in nature.”

[The actual count is elusive, depending on how a “dedication” is defined; my own total so far is twenty-five dedications plus three more quasi-dedications, or twenty-eight, which accords with the number indicated by Franklin Williams in his Index. – HW]

“It is … likely that, because of his being put forward as a candidate for authorship of the Shakespeare plays, some scholars feel called upon to savage his reputation and overlook his patronage rather than assess its scope and influence.”

“Stephen W. May notes concerning the body of de Vere’s patronage that its focus was literary. Thirteen … books which were presented to him were either original or translated works of literature.  Edwin H. Miller adds that there is not a strong tradition of rewards to poets and creative artists in the history of Elizabethan patronage since the emphasis was placed on utilitarian works, and that ‘propagandists of the government’s political and religious policies were more generously rewarded.’ …

“The Earl of Leicester, certainly in a position to bestow favor on authors whom he favored, was the dedicatee of more than ninety works, and yet of that number only a small percent was literary. The Second Earl of Essex was also a greater patron in volume than de Vere, but only eighteen percent of it was literary.  Though fewer total works were presented to de Vere, a surprising forty percent was literary rather than utilitarian.”

Minerva Britanna - 1612

Minerva Britanna – 1612

“As is the case again and again with the works patronized by de Vere [such as Thomas Underdowne’s translation of An Aethiopian Historie by Heliodorus, dedicated to nineteen-year-old Oxford in 1569], the author’s voice is fresh, new, and often never witnessed from that same pen again once the relationship with de Vere ends.

“Such is not to suggest that de Vere was, in fact, the ghost author of all the works dedicated to him. Rather, perhaps it is time that scholarship at least acknowledged that coming into de Vere’s circle of influence resulted in similar positive results for the creative process which flourished under his protection.  Shakespeare undoubtedly knew Heliodorus, probably from the Underdowne translation…” [Citing a direct reference to Theagenes and Chariclia in Twelfth Night*].

“Although there was no calculated plan for the scope of his patronage, beginning as it did when he was a mere boy, his preference for literary work over the devotional or practical became obvious. Such works lent themselves to being models for adaptation for the forerunners of the novel as well as being instrumental in the development of English drama.  His early boldness in writing introductions to such works as the Latin translation of Il Cortegiano [The Courtier] or Bedingfield’s Cardanus Comfort suggests his desire to be instrumental in shaping what was read by the university student and the courtier, thus in a roundabout way to transform the Elizabethan court into the cultured society depicted at Urbino in Castiglione’s work…

“It would eventually come to pass that William Shakespeare would benefit from the works de Vere patronized, for his plays came to make use of practically every one of the literary number in some fashion.”

Without such patronage, Dunn concludes, many of those Shakespearean sources “might not have been available for inspiration” – a realization which, by itself, “should ensure Edward de Vere the gratitude of every student of English literature.”

  • “Like to the Egyptian thief at point of death, Kill what I love?” – Twelfth Night, 5.1

Sources Cited Above:

May, Stephen W., “The Poems of Edward de Vere, Seventeenth Earl of Oxford and of Robert Devereux, Second Earl of Essex,” Studies in Philology, Early Winter, 1980

Miller, Edwin H., The Professional Writer in Elizabethan England, Harvard, 1959

Williams, Franklin W., Jr., Index of Dedications and Commendatory Verses in English Books before 1641 (1962)

Building an Elizabethan Stage in the New York-New Jersey Area at Rockland Community College — Please Donate What You Can!


Rockland Community College needs your help. Please partner with us and contribute to a needed multi-purpose new Outdoor Performance Space!

Our campus needs a major uplift and the necessary demolition of a decaying amphitheater behind the Cultural Arts Center will offer the perfect place to construct a beautiful Outdoor Performance Space and peace garden for all to enjoy.
Performing Arts is a popular program at RCC and provides so many opportunities for talented, hopeful, and enthusiastic young people. Help us overcome any barriers to their success. Help us provide the venue to join together and celebrate the arts and the rich diversity of our community.


Every penny you donate is QUADRUPLED! For every dollar you give, Rockland Community College will get $4. Every dollar will be matched by our three generous benefactors, to help us reach our goal of $400,000.
Remember: The campaign is ALL OR NOTHING – we must raise the full amount within 24 hours, or all donations will be returned.

$500 grows into $2000!
$250 grows into $1000!
$25 grows into $100!

Your support will allow us to create something beautiful – an outdoor performance venue for our students and the community!


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