The Earl of Southampton Described as a “Prince of Illustrious Lineage” after the Queen’s Visit to Oxford University in 1592

In 1999 the British scientist and Shakespeare authorship scholar John M. Rollet, who died in 2015, reported evidence that Henry Wriothesley, third Earl of Southampton (1573-1624) was regarded at court as the son of Queen Elizabeth. Among this evidence is a narrative poem in Latin, commemorating her Majesty’s weeklong visit during September 1592 to Oxford University, in which Southampton is called Dynasta – defined in the sixteenth century as a hereditary prince or ruler of great power, which would make him the queen’s successor by blood and heir to the Tudor dynasty.

Henry Wriothesley
Third Earl Southampton

Apollinis et Musarum Eukita Eidyllia or Worshipful Idylls of Apollo and the Muses, was written by John Sanford (1565-1629), chaplain of Magdalene College. Published in twenty-four pages on 10 October 1592 by Joseph Barnes, the university’s printer, the two-part poem primarily focuses on the nobles of her Majesty’s retinue who attended a banquet at the college in their honor.

“Apollo and the Muses, exiled from Greece, make their way to Oxford, encounter the Queen, and each Muse offers a prayer for the welfare of her realm,” Dana F. Sutton writes about the first part of the poem. The second part, a description of the Magdalene banquet, is filled with the flattery to which Elizabethan courtiers were accustomed; and after fulsomely praising Robert Devereux, second Earl of Essex (1566-1601), Sanford abruptly offers an exceptional description of Southampton:

Post hunc insequitur clara de stirpe Dynasta.

Lure suo dives quem South-Hamptonia magnum

Vendicat heroem…

Rollet found these lines “truly astonishing … I could hardly believe my eyes when I read them and tried to make sense of what they meant … It is the word ‘Dynasta’ which is so astonishing, because its meaning is precise: a lord inheriting great power, a prince, a ruler …

“It is a rare word in Latin, and is taken over directly from the Greek. Its root is the same as that of ‘dynastic’ and means ‘possessing power’ or “great power.’ The only rulers or princes ‘possessing great power’ in Tudor England were the Tudors, culminating in Elizabeth. To call Southampton ‘Dynasta’ – or in modern English, a ‘Dynast’ – can properly mean only one thing: that he was held to be in the line of succession of the Tudor dynasty.”

Charlotte Stopes translated the lines in 1922 as “After him [Essex] followed a Prince of a distinguished race, whom, rich in her right, Southampton blazons as a great hero.”

Rollet consulted with experts before arriving at a more specific version: “After him there follows a hereditary Prince of illustrious lineage, whom as a great hero the rich House of Southampton lawfully lays claim to as one of its own.”

If Henry were the natural son of the second Earl of Southampton and his countess, Rollet writes, there would have been no need for the House of Southampton to legally claim him; but if he were the natural son of Queen Elizabeth and yet had been effectively adopted and accepted by the second Earl, he would be simultaneously a Tudor prince and the lawful third Earl of Southampton.

“The writer of the verses chose a rare word to convey his precise meaning,” Rollet concludes, “and he would only have felt safe in doing so if it was widely believed among well-placed people that Southampton was indeed the Queen’s son.” He notes that the poem was an official publication of the university, with its coat of arms on the title page; therefore its authorities had “approved this graceful reference to Southampton’s supposed status” and it “would be expected to bring credit to the university if he ever ascended the throne.”

Within the poem a recurrent theme is the prospect of Elizabeth’s death. (She had just entered her sixtieth year.) “Late may the gray hairs sprinkle her temples, the wrinkles of years wither her brow, or a staff support her limbs broken by old age,” a Greek god declares. “Have no anxiety, sovereign, a sure place [after death] is readied for you,” another tells her, adding, “Yet I shall pray that you be late in coming into this kingdom [of heaven].”

During the early 1590s, there was increasing anxiety over the prospect of Elizabeth dying without a designated successor. This growing worry seems part of Sanford’s description of her visit and may explain his bold description of Southampton as a Tudor heir whose presence would resolve the looming crisis.

NOTES

John M. Rollet first presented “Was Southampton regarded as the Son of the Queen?” at the 1999 Shakespeare Oxford Conference in Boston. After adding to the paper twice, he included his findings in William Stanley as Shakespeare: Evidence of Authorship by the Sixth Earl of Derby (MacFarland, 2015). Sanford’s lines comprise one of three strands of evidence showing “beyond a reasonable doubt that Southampton was regarded in the early 1590s as having a status appropriate to a son of the Queen.”

Henry Wriothesley, third Earl of Southampton was officially born on 6 October 1573. At age eight he became the eighth and final royal ward of Elizabeth in the custody of William Cecil Lord Burghley. (Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, had become the first royal ward in 1562 at age twelve.) When Wriothesley turned sixteen in 1589, he came under pressure to agree to an arranged marriage with Elizabeth Vere, Burghley’s granddaughter.

(Oxford had succumbed to similar pressure from Cecil by marrying his daughter, Anne Cecil, in December 1571. After Elizabeth Vere was born in 1575, he denied his paternity and separated from his wife until late 1581, after which they had two more daughters. Anne died in June 1588.)

Modern Biographies of Southampton:

Charlotte Stopes: The Life of Henry, Third Earl of Southampton, 1922

A.L. Rowse: Shakespeare’s Southampton, 1965

G.P.V. Akrigg: Shakespeare and the Earl of Southampton, 1968

The Queen’s Visit to Oxford during 22-28 September 1592 was the second and final one. (The first occurred in 1566, when de Vere had received his MA at sixteen.) Southampton had been incorporated MA in August before the royal visit and was among the noblemen accompanying her. “By now,” Akrigg writes, the young earl “was spending a good part of his time in attendance at the Court.”

The Full Text of Apollonis et Musarum Eukita Eidyllia or The Idylls of Apollo and the Muses on the Most Auspicious and Welcome Arrival of Queen Elizabeth is online in the original Latin and an English translation by Dana F. Sutton at The Philological Museum.

Translations of the Lines Describing Southampton vary according to authors, presented here with the “Dynasta” versions in bold italics:

Stopes: “After him followed a Prince of a distinguished race, whom (rich in her right) Southampton blazons as a great hero. No youth there present was more beautiful or more brilliant in the learned arts than this young prince of Hampshire, although his face was yet scarcely adorned by a tender down.”

(Stopes mistakenly attributed the poem to Philip Stringer, a Cambridge man who attended Burghey during the queen’s visit to Oxford and wrote his own Latin account of the event, which survives in manuscript and is presented by John Nichols in The Progresses and Public Processions of Queen Elizabeth, Volume 3, 1823.)

Rowse: He entirely ignores the Latin lines with “Dynasta” and simply reports, “Southampton is singled out for the characteristics by which Shakespeare describes him: his physical beauty and the cheeks hardly yet adorned with down.” (Only Rowse would know why he ignored the most striking part of Sanford’s description of Henry Wriothesley.)

Akrigg: “After him there follows a lord of lofty line whom rich Southampton claims in his own right as a great hero. There was present no one more comely, no young man more outstanding in learning, although his mouth scarcely yet blooms with tender down.”

Sutton: “After him follows a magnate of high degree, a man whom by right Southampton claims as her great lord. No gentleman more comely was present, no youth more distinguished in the arts, though the down scarce grows on his gentle face.” [Magnate – a person of great influence or importance or standing.]

It should be noted that Rollet translated “Dynasta” as it would have been understood during the Elizabethan age, when Latin was commonly written and spoken at the universities, and not as scholars of the twentieth century would translate the word.

Rollet’s Evidence that Southampton was regarded as the son of the queen also includes (1) a letter from Philip Gawdy in May 1593 indicating that Southampton was expected to be made a Knight of the Garter, at an age when only the monarch’s kinsmen had previously been elected; and (2) a English poem in 1593 by George Peele, indicating that Southampton at nineteen shared immortality with the queen, indicating “a very special relationship to her indeed.” [The poem has a short Latin ending with “Stirps generosa rosa” or “The offspring of the [Tudor] rose is noble.”

Note: From what I can tell, Rollet continued to believe (based on the Sonnets) that Edward de Vere and Queen Elizabeth were the natural parents of Southampton; however, he was careful to present his evidence “as an uncommitted investigator,” as he writes on p. 66 of his book about William Stanley as Shakespeare.

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