Daughters and Dedications: Re-posting No. 57 of 100 Reasons Oxford Wrote the Shakespeare Works

Only three men received dedications of Shakespeare works. Each man had been engaged to (or was married to) one of Oxford’s daughters:

Elizabeth de Vere (1575-1627) was engaged to Southampton but married William Stanley, 6th Earl of Derby

Henry Wriothesley, third earl of Southampton, to whom Venus and Adonis (1593) and Lucrece (1594) were dedicated, was then engaged to Oxford’s eldest daughter Elizabeth de Vere. He refused to marry her despite pressure from William Cecil, the girl’s grandfather and his guardian. Elizabeth de Vere married William Stanley, earl of Derby at Greenwich Palace on 26 January 1595, when A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in the view of many scholars, was performed for the guests.

The only other “Shakespeare” work dedicated to a named individual (I thus omit the “Mr. W.H.” in the Sonnets of 1609. whom I believe to be Southampton) was the First Folio in 1623, with thirty-six plays in over nine hundred pages, offered to “THE MOST NOBLE And INCOMPARABLE PAIRE OF BRETHREN”:

William Herbert, third Earl of Pembroke (1580-1630)

William Herbert, earl of Pembroke, who had been engaged in 1597 to Oxford’s second daughter, Bridget de Vere; and

Philip Herbert, earl of Montgomery (William’s brother), who married Oxford’s youngest daughter, Susan de Vere, in 1604.

The Folio of 1623 appeared nineteen years after Oxford’s death and seven years after Shakspere’s death.  The introductory matter, supervised by Ben Jonson (who also wrote its main epistles), never explicitly identifies the Warwickshire man; instead, it contains one reference to the dramatist as “sweet Swan of Avon” and a separate mention of thy Stratford moniment,” leaving it to people in the future to conclude that Shakspere of Stratford-upon-Avon was the great author. It is upon this shaky foundation that an entirely  fictional “biography” has been built.

Philip Herbert the first Earl of Montgomery (1584-1650) at age 25 in 1609

Oxfordian researcher Ruth Loyd Miller called the Shakespeare folio “a family affair” that began with the marriage of Susan de Vere and Philip Herbert during the 1604-05 Christmas season, six months after Oxford’s reported death on 24 June 1604.  Court festivities for the wedding included performances of seven “Shakespeare” plays, an unspoken tribute to the absent author.

The first two plays were “The Moor of Venice” (Othello) and The Merry Wives of Windsor.  Two more were performed, before and after the main event:

26 December: Measure for Measure

27 December: Wedding of Susan de Vere and Philip Herbert

28 December: The Comedy of Errors

In January the performances continued with Love’s Labour’s Lost, hosted by Southampton, followed by Henry the Fifth and The Merchant of Venice, the latter presented twice.

Susan de Vere dancing in Ben Jonson’s “Masque of Blackness” on 6 January 1605 at Whitehall in the Old Banqueting House

Also presented was Masque of Blackness by Jonson at Whitehall Palace; its performers included the bride and groom, Susan and Philip; Elizabeth de Vere and her husband, Derby; and Bridget de Vere’s former fiancé William Herbert, earl of Pembroke.

“This was the beginning of a long and intimate association between the daughters of the Earl of Oxford and their families, and Ben Jonson, climaxed in 1623 with the publication of the First Folio,” Miller writes. Jonson remained “particularly close” to Susan de Vere and the Herbert brothers, Pembroke and Montgomery, with Pembroke bestowing on Jonson twenty pounds every New Year “with which to purchase books.”

It was also the start of “an active, determined and intense campaign by Pembroke for the position of Lord Chamberlain of the Royal Household,” Miller continues, noting the position “had purview over the office and properties of the Revels Office” and those of the Lord Chamberlain’s Company, now the King’s Men.

Jonson published a folio of his own works (the first of its kind in England) in 1616, listing “Shakespeare” as having acted in two of his plays, Every Man in His Humour of 1598 and Sejanus of 1603 (without mentioning him as a writer).

Ben Jonson’s 1616 Folio of his Collected Works

Jonson’s costly folio was dedicated to Pembroke, his patron, who apparently financed it; in addition, Pembroke arranged at that time for Jonson to receive an annual pension of 100 marks. Jonson’s folio was issued just a few months after the death of Shakspere in April 1616, an event that occurred without any public comment. The identification by Jonson that year of Shakespeare an actor would be repeated in the front matter of the Folio of 1623 as “The Names of the Principals Actors in all these Places” – a further attempt to emphasize the Bard as strictly a theatrical man. It should be noted that the 1623 Shakespeare folio included only his plays; conspicuously, it contained none of the poems and sonnets, nor any mention of Southampton, to whom the poetry had been dedicated.

In 1621 Pembroke temporarily increased Jonson’s pension to 200 pounds.  Having become the Chamberlain, now “all [Pembroke] wanted to do was retain” his position, Miller writes, “and under no conditions was he willing to accept more lucrative posts unless he might leave his place to his brother Montgomery.” The logical deduction is that Pembroke was fiercely committed to publishing Shakespeare’s plays in folio.

The Shakespeare dedications all lead back to Edward de Vere and his daughters and other relatives. To repeat Miller’s phrase, what we have here is “a family affair.”

[This post is now no. 99 of the book 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford, edited by Alex McNeil.)

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  1. You seem to endorse Miller’s theory without any criticism. But really, it’s a series of easily explained coincidences.

    The upper class of England was a tiny group of intermarried families. The number of eligible single men and women of the appropriate class, lineage, and age for a marital match was small.

    The coincidence that the daughters of Oxford (who were living in the household of their grandfather, the chief counselor to Queen Elizabeth and one of the most powerful men in England) were matched with the sons of the Earl of Pembroke is a practical one. The two Herbert brothers were born in 1580 and 1584; the three De Vere daughters were born from 1575 to 1587, so they were reasonably closely matched.

    It’s also anachronistic to assume that these arranged matches imply some lasting affection between the partners. Matches were a buisiness arrangement between the fathers of the two betrothed. Seventeen-year-old William Herbert was proposed as a possible match for thirteen-year-old Bridget Vere, but William rejected the financial terms of the arrangement — the money was not to be paid until after the death of Bridget’s grandfather, William Cecil. The following year Cecil died, but apparently there was no effort made to resurect the match. It seems speculative for this brief negotiation decades before to be the basis of dedicating the First Folio to William, as if he was somehow a son-in-law that Oxford never had.

    You also note that the Folio contained only Shakespeare’s plays, not his poems. If the scenario you and Miller support were true, and the Folio was intended as a tribute to the late father of the spouse of one of the dedicatees, we might expect that the tribute would include his poetry. But if the Folio was, as almost all scholars believe, published with the works originally performed by Shakespeare’s former acting company (about half of which they had exclusive publication rights to) we’d expect the collection of only those plays. The Folio best matched the content that Heminges and Condell would be most likely to publish.


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