Oxford’s Uncle Surrey, Father of the English Sonnet: Re-posting No. 55 of “100 Reasons” why Edward de Vere was “Shakespeare”

If Shakspere of Stratford-upon-Avon could have boasted that one of his uncles had introduced into England the sonnet form later made famous by “Shakespeare,” who would question his authorship of SHAKE-SPEARES SONNETS?

Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey (1517-1547)

Of course, he had no such uncle; but Edward de Vere’s uncle  Henry Howard, earl of Surrey (1517-1547), was one of the founders of English Renaissance poetry.

Sir Thomas Wyatt, who belonged to the cultivated circle at the Court of Henry VIII and was Surrey’s senior by fifteen years

One of Oxford’s aunts, Frances de Vere (a sister of his father, the sixteenth earl), had married Surrey, the nobleman-poet who, with his friend Sir Thomas Wyatt (1503-1542), had pioneered the writing of English sonnets.

Wyatt and Surrey are known as the “Fathers of the English Sonnet.” Surrey created the rhyming meter and quatrain divisions of the “Elizabethan” or “Shakespearean” form of sonnet.

Surrey was beheaded in January 1547 by the dying Henry VIII, who had become increasingly paranoid as illness overwhelmed him. Without evidence the king had accused the poet-earl of treason, charging him with planning to usurp the crown from his nine-year-old son, the future Edward VI of England.

“Songs and Sonnettes,” usually called Tottel’s Miscellany, 1557, was the first printed anthology of English verse, containing 271 poems, forty of them by Oxford’s uncle the Earl of Surrey and ninety-six by Sir Thomas Wyatt

In 1557, ten years after Surrey’s death and when Oxford was seven, the publisher Richard Tottel issued Songes and Sonettes written by the right honorable Lorde Henry Haward, late Earle of Surrey and other, known later and more famously as Tottel’s Miscellany.  (It was the custom for noblemen’s poetry to be printed posthumously.) This was the first printed anthology of English poetry and the most important verse collection of the sixteenth century, running into many editions during Elizabeth’s reign of nearly forty-five years.

With his translations of two books of Virgil’s Aeneid, Surrey was the first English poet to publish blank verse; in this, too, Oxford’s uncle prepared the way for Shakespeare. Well before his death Surrey’s poetry (inspired by the Italians) had been circulated in manuscript, so a young de Vere would have seen copies owned by his relatives. Aunt Frances, his father’s sister and Surrey’s widow, herself a versifier, lived until 1577, when Oxford was twenty-seven.

Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey (1517-1547), creator of the English or “Shakespearean” form of sonnet and uncle of Edward de Vere

As a young man Oxford was close to his cousins, Surrey’s son Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk (1536-1572), and the duke’s younger brother Henry Howard, the future 1st Earl of Northampton (1540-1614). Norfolk was executed in 1572 for taking part in the Ridolfi plot to put Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots on the throne; and Henry Howard was one of those responsible for turning Oxford against his wife Anne Cecil in 1576. This younger son of Surrey was extremely well-educated and intelligent, which drew Oxford to him, but he also had a “stupendous want of principle,” as Sir Sidney Lee writes in the Dictionary of National Biography (DNB). Oxford would accuse Howard in 1580 of plotting a Catholic overthrow of Queen Elizabeth on behalf of the still captive Mary Stuart.

Oxford’s relatives and their friends had been actively involved in the rise of English poetry that would flourish in the Elizabethan age and reach its extraordinary heights in the poems, plays and sonnets of “William Shakespeare.”  These poets had included not only Wyatt and Surrey, but others:

Thomas, Lord Vaux, who died in 1556; two of his poems appeared in Tottel’s Miscellany (1557); thirteen are in The Paradise of Dainty Devices (1576), which contains youthful poetry of Edward de Vere

Thomas Lord Vaux (1509-1556), inventor of the six-line stanza used for verses of both Oxford and “Shakespeare.”  Lord Vaux contributed some verse posthumously to The Paradise of Dainty Devices (1576), in which seven of Oxford’s poems appeared under the initials E.O.; Vaux had also composed a song adapted by “Shakespeare” into the Gravedigger’s song in Hamlet.

Edmund Baron Sheffield (1521-1549), another of Oxford’s poet-uncles, was the husband of the sixteenth Earl of Oxford’s sister Anne de Vere. Sheffield has been linked with Surrey as an upholder of “chivalric poetry.”  He was reported to have had great “skill in music” and to have written “a book of sonnets in the Italian fashion,” but all these have been lost. Sheffield had little time; he died at twenty-eight, in the act of helping to suppress a rebellion.

Tottel’s Miscellany, Penquin Classics

Thomas Churchyard (1520-1604), a soldier-poet who was also an indefatigable “miscellaneous” writer. The DNB records he was “attached in his youth to the household of the famous Earl of Surrey, whose memory he fondly cherished throughout his long life.”

After serving militarily against Spain in the Low Countries on behalf of Prince William of Orange, the Protestant champion, Churchyard returned to England in 1567 and a year later entered the employ of eighteen-year-old de Vere. He soon embarked on an intelligence mission abroad, probably for William Cecil.

In 1580, according to Steven May, Churchyard proposed dedicating two works to “the most worthiest (and towards noble man), the Erle of Oxford,” who was spending his own money (and draining his purse) on patronizing many men of letters. Among them was Churchyard, who must have captured Oxford’s full attention while recalling his youthful service to Surrey.

 

(This Reason is now No. 15 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford)

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“Set Me Whereas the Sun Doth Parch the Green”

A Sonnet by Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey

(In the form to be known as “Shakespearean”)

Set me whereas the sun doth parch the green

Or where his beams do not dissolve the ice,

In temperate heat where he is felt and seen,

In presence prest of people, mad or wise;

Set me in high or yet in low degree,

In longest night or in the shortest day,

In clearest sky or where clouds thickest be,

In lusty youth or when my hairs are gray.

Set me in heaven, in earth, or else in hell,

In hill, or dale, or in the foaming flood;

Thrall or at large, alive whereso I dwell,

Sick or in health, in evil fame or good:

Hers will I be, and only with this thought

Content myself although my chance be nought.

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