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

The URI to TrackBack this entry is:

RSS feed for comments on this post.

8 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. When reading The Monument I found this argument (the comparison of sonnet 130) to be about the most telling.

    • Interesting, Sandy. Thanks.

  2. Thank you for this newest post. I recently listened to Alexander Waugh’s fascinating lecture concerning Shakespeare’s Dark Lady from the recent SOF conference. He touched on the “Sonnets” (both sets) and “Willobie his Avisa”/Penelope Rich, who he felt was the Dark Lady. I found it very thought provoking. I have great respect for him and for you and I was very glad he mentioned his admiration for you and your courage to share your work in this controversial area with us. I very much share that admiration and I was hoping you would post something relating to it and you have and I have to say that I still believe you have the real key to Shakespeare’s Sonnets.

    I think Mr. Waugh has great insight into many aspects of the Shakespeare Authorship question and that his theory about the two Henry’s might be correct about their biological relationship. Although, I think “Venus and Adonis” is about de Vere and Elizabeth and their subsequent child–the 3rd Earl of Southampton. I also believe you have the right take on the Sonnets. It may be that “Willobie his Avisa” is the story where Penelope Rich actually comes in, so I hope he will publish his theory in a book so I can see it all written and explained in full.

    I’m hoping there will be more on this at the Nov. 2-6, 2016 SOF Conference in Boston, because I’m finally going to an SOF conference! Can’t Wait!

    • Joanne, this is great news! I agree — and as individuals we each have to do the work that, for us, is most true and productive. Then, the results will eventually take care of themselves. Meanwhile, I am so glad you’ll be at the conference, and I so look forward to meeting you in person! All best –

      • Thank you so much Hank and I’m very much looking forward to meeting you and everyone whose writings on Shakespeare have brought me real enlightenment of the man and his works. Not to mention wonderful food for thought over many years. I feel I really know these wonderful people because when writing from the heart, the true true person shines through and is revealed. After all, that’s how we each discovered for ourselves, the real author behind the name: Shakespeare. Wishing you all the best, Joanne

      • Thanks, Joanne. Looking forward to meeting you!

  3. Hi, Hank. I have and love your books, and as a fellow Oxfordian, I must say that I’m impressed with both your ‘take’ [The Monument] and with Alexander Waugh’s seemingly different ‘take’.
    Here’s my best guess.
    I think Oxford wanted H. W. [Southampton] to beget a changeling child for him, as Waugh suggests, due to his need for a male heir to his earldom. The reason he wanted Wriothesley — and not anybody else — to do the ‘siring’ duties, is because he knew that any male child begotten by Wriothesley would also be his own blood kin… because Southampton was his son by Q. E. Henry de Vere, the XVIIIth Earl of Oxford, would then technically be Edward de Vere’s grandson.
    One aspect of the plot of the film ANONYMOUS that I just don’t agree with is the notion that Oxford was, himself, the Queen’s son. I can see how Oxford could use “royal” language while referring to the “Fair Youth” [H.W.] seeing that he had begotten him in secret… but if Oxford, too, was Elizabeth’s son, then that would make ANY male child of his a potential heir to the Throne, including the bastard son Anne Vavasor bore him, also named Edward Vere! Such a child would also be grand-children of the Queen’s, if Oxford were also her son, as well as her lover!
    The only way I can see Oxford being willing to have someone else beget an heir to the Earldom of Oxford — on a surrogate mother, to boot — is if that begetting was not a cuckolding. Too many plots have a paranoid obsession with cuckoldry for me to think that the same mind wouldn’t mind handing over his earldom to someone who wasn’t still related to himself.
    The way I see it, the ONLY man who could possibly aid Oxford in his struggle to provide a male successor that he could embrace as a ‘true’ son, is Wriothesley, the son whom he could never acknowledge publicly, just as the Queen couldn’t (to preserve her status as a ‘Virgin’).
    Of course, the only sure way to sort all this out is for DNA tests to be done… and, if Waugh is also right about Oxford being buried by the trio of Chaucer, Spenser, and Beaumont in Westminster Abbey, then we all know where to look for Oxford’s mortal remains, don’t we?
    All happinesse,
    Patrick Tilton

    • Hey Patrick, I have meant to thank you for this thoughtful comment. The whole thing is a tangled web, for sure. And I agree with you that Southampton begetting an heir to the Oxford earldom (!) would make more sense if in fact he was Oxford’s son to begin with. I am laughing here, however, because no Hollywood producer or TV network would accept this plot as believable! Anyway, again, thanks.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: