“You are not ‘Ipse,’ for I am he!”: Re-posting no. 58 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford

One scene in the Shakespeare plays, viewed through the lens of de Vere as the dramatist, is so starkly illuminating that it quickly shatters the myth that the author could have been William Shakspere. The scene opens Act Five of the comedy As You Like It. Set in the Forest of Arden, it has no function in the plot and appears to be one of several late additions to the play.  In this short scene the courtier-clown Touchstone confronts William, the country fellow (who appears nowhere else in the entire play) and orders him to stop claiming possession of Audrey, the country wench who is betrothed to Touchstone. Orthodox scholars and teachers are constrained to treat the scene seriously, trying to make sense of it in the context of the rest of the comedy. They often come up with interesting explanations, except for the most obvious one, that it represents the author speaking directly about authorship and trying to tell us the truth by means of allegorical fiction.

Touchstone the courtier-clown stands for the playwright, Oxford, the courtier who was praised as “best for comedy” at Queen Elizabeth’s royal court; Audrey the country wench stands for the body of Oxford’s plays, regarded by the Puritans as immoral; and William the country fellow is William of Stratford-upon-Avon in the Warwickshire countryside.

In this short allegorical scene, Oxford accuses Shakspere of trying to claim credit for the Shakespeare plays (or to gain profit by selling them), and tells him to abandon all pretensions as author: “All your writers do consent that ipse is he; now, you are not ipse, for I am he” (5.1). 

[“All the writers who worked under my patronage know that I am the man himself, the master writer. Now you, William, are not he himself, because I am!”]

Touchstone is one of Oxford’s clearest self-portraits. Just as in the 1570s and 1580s he had enjoyed the queen’s license to write and produce plays satirizing members of her court, Touchstone is an “allowed fool” (as Olivia calls Feste in Twelfth Night) who can say what he wants and get away with it.  He is brilliant, insightful, witty and argumentative. He can laugh at the madness of the world and at himself. Above all, he is a “touchstone” or identifier of truth and true value (or the lack of it) beneath the surface appearances.

We are prepared in Act Three to recognize Touchstone as the dramatist. In the forest with Audrey (who represents the plays), he tells her: I am here with thee and thy goats, as the most capricious poet, honest Ovid, was among the Goths” (3.3). Ovid, the ancient Roman poet and Shakespeare’s favorite source, was banished to the land of the Goths, just as Oxford was prevented from taking credit as author. Touchstone then sets up the truth as told best by “feigning” or being deceptive:

Touchstone – When a man’s verses cannot be understood, nor a man’s good wit seconded with [acknowledged by] the forward child, understanding, it strikes a man more dead than a great reckoning in a little room.  Truly, I would the gods had made thee poetical.

Audrey – I do not know what poetical is.  Is it honest in deed and word?  Is it a true thing?

Touchstone – No, truly; for the truest poetry is the most feigning …

The best (or only) way for Oxford to tell the truth is by means of symbolism and allegory in his dramatic works, which are otherwise fictional; but, he warns, if you fail to understand my “hidden” meanings you will be denying my existence; you might as well kill me in the little room of a torture chamber.

William, Touchstone and Audrey

Here is Act Five, Scene 1 with some of my comments inserted. The Forest of Arden [which, in real life, lay between Stratford-upon-Avon and Oxford’s estate on the Avon known as Bilton.] Touchstone [Oxford] and Audrey [the plays] are onstage. Enter William [of Stratford]

WILLIAM – Good even, Audrey.

AUDREY – God ye good even, William.

WILLIAM – And good even to you, sir.

TOUCHSTONE – Good even, gentle friend. Cover thy head, cover thy head; nay, prithee, be covered. How old are you, friend?

WILLIAM – Five and twenty, sir.

[Note: William of Stratford was twenty-five in 1589. By then Oxford would have completed the original versions of all the plays; but he would have written this scene no earlier than 1599, when the “Shakespeare” name had just begun to be printed on the plays, and possibly as late as 1603.]

TOUCHSTONE – A ripe age. Is thy name William?

WILLIAM – William, sir. [If the playwright’s name was William, would he decide to give that name to this country bumpkin?]

TOUCHSTONE – A fair name. Wast born i’ the forest here?

WILLIAM – Ay, sir, I thank God.

TOUCHSTONE – ‘Thank God;’ a good answer.  Art rich?

WILLIAM – Faith, sir, so-so.

TOUCHSTONE – ‘So-so’ is good, very good, very excellent good; and yet it is not; it is but so-so.  Art thou wise?

WILLIAM – Ay, sir, I have a pretty wit.

Touchstone in the Royal Shakespeare Company production of 1996-97

TOUCHSTONE – Why, thou sayest well. I do now remember a saying, “The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.” The heathen philosopher, when he had a desire to eat a grape, would open his lips when he put it into his mouth; meaning thereby that grapes were made to eat and lips to open. You do love this maid?

WILLIAM – I do, sir. [William wants to marry the plays, i.e., claim them for himself.]

TOUCHSTONE – Give me your hand. Art thou learned?

WILLIAM – No, sir. [William is uneducated; perhaps illiterate.]

TOUCHSTONE – Then learn this of me: to have, is to have; for it is a figure in rhetoric that drink, being poured out  of a cup into a glass, by filling the one doth empty the other; [By filling Shakspere with credit for the plays, Oxford is being emptied of credit] for all your writers do consent that ipse is he: now, you are not ipse, for I am he.

WILLIAM – Which he, sir?

TOUCHSTONE – He, sir, that must marry this woman. [Oxford is the one who deserves to be associated with the plays.] Therefore, you clown, abandon,–which is in the vulgar leave — the society — which in the boorish is company — of this female — which in the common is woman; which together is, abandon the society of this female, or, clown, thou perishest; or, to thy better understanding, diest; or, to wit I kill thee, make thee away, translate thy life into death, thy liberty into bondage: I will deal in poison with thee, or in bastinado [beating with sticks], or in steel; I will bandy with thee in faction [engage in controversy with you]; I will o’errun thee with policy [conquer you with cunning strategy]; I will kill thee a hundred and fifty ways: therefore tremble and depart!

AUDREY – Do, good William.

WILLIAM – God rest you merry, sir. (Exit)

Oxford may have written and inserted this gratuitous scene in 1603, after he had agreed to the complete obliteration of his identity as the author of the “Shakespeare” works. Perhaps he inserted it for a private performance at Wilton in December 1603, some nine months after the succession of King James. For those at Court and possibly others who knew the truth about Oxford’s authorship, it must have been wildly funny and yet profoundly sad.

[This post is now no. 88 in 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford (2016), published by Forever Press.]

[Thanks to editor Alex McNeil for his help, as usual; and see his article “Is Touchstone vs. William in As You Like It the first authorship story?” in Shakespeare Matters 2.3 (Spring 2003); 14-22.]

[Also my thanks again to Brian Bechtold for his editorial help.]

Shakespeare & Italy – A Tribute to Richard Roe

Published in: Uncategorized on August 31, 2019 at 2:58 pm  Comments (2)  

“Oxford’s Final Love Letters to Queen Elizabeth” by Robert Prechter

The following article is reprinted from the Shakespeare Oxford Fellowship Newsletter edition of Summer 2015. It calls to mind one powerful thought about Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford: Under any name, he is consistently telling his own story. Comments and questions are invited and encouraged.

“Oxford’s Final Love Letters to Queen Elizabeth” by Robert Prechter

Thomas Proctor’s compendium of verse titled A gorgious Gallery, of gallant Inventions…by divers worthy workemen (1578) contains ninety-two poems. I count sixteen of them as Oxford’s. By far the most important among them are three poems that appear to be Oxford’s personal entreaties to Queen Elizabeth, written after what seems to have been—and, in light of these poems, must have been—their affair of approximately 1571 to 1574, as postulated in numerous Oxfordian sources. The poems’ titles and first lines are:

(1) A loving Epistle, written by Ruphilus a yonge Gentilman, to his best beloved Lady Elriza (“Twice hath my quaking hand”)

(2) Narsetus a wofull youth, in his exile writeth to Rosana his beloved mistresse, to assure her of his faithfull constancie, requiring the like of her (“To stay thy musinge minde”)

(3) The Lover forsaken, writeth to his Lady a desperate Farwell (“Even hee that whilome was”)

(Numbers below in parentheses refer to these three poems. Original spellings have been kept.)

The addressee of these poems is easy to discern. The name Elriza is an anagram for Eliza R, i.e., Eliza Regina. Rosana is another name for Queen Elizabeth, the only woman then living whose symbol was the Tudor Rose.

Who is addressing the Queen? One of the most revealing aspects of the three poems is how similar some of their lines are to those in the Earl of Oxford’s poem The Loss of My Good Name. The final stanza of that poem reads:

Help gods, help saints, help sprites and powers that in the heaven do dwell,

Help ye that are to wail, ay wont, ye howling hounds of hell,

Help man, help beasts, help birds and worms that on the earth doth toil,

Help fish, help fowl that flocks and feeds upon the salt-sea soil,

Help echo that in air doth flee, shrill voices to resound

To wail this loss of my good name, as of these griefs the ground.


The three poems from gorgious Gallery resound with Oxford’s words, images and 
parallel constructions:

Help thou Minerva, graunt I pray, some of thy learned skill.

Help all you Muses nine, my wofull Pen to write: (1)

Let all the furies forth, that pine in Hell with payne,

Let all their torments come abroad…

Come wilde and savadge beastes, stretch forth your cruell pawes,

Dismember mee, consume my flesh: imbrew your greedy jawes. (3)

And yee my sences all: whose helpe was aye at hand…

Ye sonne, ye moone and starres…

Forbeare to show your force a while. 

Yet for the worldly shame…

Or for the losse of your good name… (3)


We may reasonably conclude, then, that these poems are missives from Oxford to Elizabeth.

In keeping with changing authorship—both indicated and hypothesized—within gorgious Gallery, suddenly the versification in the book leaps to a level above that of the surrounding material. The poet begins by expressing his fear and hesitancy:

Twice hath my quaking hand withdrawen this pen away

And twice again it gladly would, before I dare beewray

The secret shrined thoughts, that in my hart do dwell,

That never wight as yet hath wist, nor I desire to tell. (1)

In our proposed context, Oxford would indeed have possessed “secret shrined thoughts,” ones of which no one else was aware (“never wight as yet hath wist”) and which his beloved’s social rank would have barred him from revealing. The poet quickly employs a thoughtful comparison:

But as the smoothered cole, doth wast and still consume,
And outwardly doth geve no heate, of burnyng blaze or fume:
So hath my hidden harmes, been harbred in my corpce,
Till faintyng limes and life and all, had welnigh lost his force. (1)

Shakespeare uses “coals” metaphorically fourteen times, including “dying coal” in Venus and Adonis (Stz.55) and “dying coals” in Lucrece (Stz.197).

The poet next admits, “stand I halfe in doubt,” and hesitates. He finally resolves, “I will lay feare aside” and write. Several lines in the poems link the names Elriza and Rosana to the Queen by using terms of political power. Consider:

Who yeeldeth all hee hath: as subject to thy will,

If thou command hee doth obey, and all thy heastes fulfill. (1)

I am banisht thus from thee….(2)

I doo commend to thee: my life and all I have,

Commaund them both as hee best likes; so lose or else to save. (2)

Thou art Queene of women kinde, and all they ought obay.

And all for shame doo blush, when thou doost come in place…(3)

And every wight on earth: that living breath do draw,

Lo here your queene sent from above, to kepe you all in awe. (2)


One comparison begins with words that imply a throne:

As highest seates wee see be subject to most winde…(1)


He says to his poem:

Fall flat to ground before her face: and at her feet doo lie:

Haste not to rise againe [until she] rayse thee with her hand.

…A pardon crave upon thy knee, and pray her to forgeve…(2)


Royal suitors had been assailing Queen Elizabeth, as they are Elriza:

Though Princes sue for grace: and ech one do thee woo

Mislyke not this my meane estate: wherewith I can nought doo. (1)


And in one line, Oxford seems to identify himself as her subject:

The subject Oxe doth like his yoke: when hee is driven to draw. (1)

 The original aphorism shows up in Shakespeare’s Much Ado about Nothing (I,i):

“In time the savage bull doth bear the yoke.


Many Oxfordians believe that Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis describes Elizabeth’s pursuit of Oxford. Echoing an equally unbalanced courtship, the anonymous author of these poems attributes romantic advances firmly to the lady. He speaks of “thy bewailing words” (3) while asserting his own innocence:

“Sith first I did you know: I never spake the thing/ That did intend you to beguile.” (3)


Further fitting Oxford’s relative youth, the poet confesses naiveté in allowing his beloved to use him:

Unskilful though I bee, and cannot best discerne,
Where craft for troth doth preace in place, yet am I not to learne.
And I did thinke you such: that litle knew of guile,
But seemings now be plaste for deedes, and please fulwel the while. (2)

The poet’s youth, in turn, provides a reason for the lady’s reluctance to commit:

Have you thus sone forgot, the doutes and dreades you made,

Of yongmens love how litle holde, how sone away they fade. 


As it happens, a report written in July 1571 to Regent Catherine de’ Medici by the French ambassador to England, de la Mothe Fenelon, confirms that Oxford’s youth would have doomed a permanent match with Elizabeth. He wrote (in French) that “she wanted to tell me freely that, given her age, she would not willingly be led to church to be married to someone who looked as young as the Earl of Oxford and that that could not be without a certain feeling of shame and some regret.”

We may even have evidence to date the start of Oxford and Elizabeth’s involvement. At the beginning of the third poem, the poet reveals the length of time he has been enthralled. Speaking of himself in the third person he writes, thrise three yeeres hath spent & past, reposing all his trust/ In thy bewailing words, that seemed sugar sweet…(3) Counting back nine years from the publication date of the book gives 1569. By this reckoning, we may conclude that Elizabeth first flirted with Oxford in 1569, when he was nineteen years old. (On the other hand, the poet may have taken some temporal license in favor of employing the parallel and alliterative phrase “thrise three.”)

The poet refers to “My absence longe” (1), implying that for a time he had left the area. This recollection corresponds with the fact that Oxford had departed for a trip through the continent that had ended just two years before the publication of these poems. Yet he begs his beloved to remember—while using another term fitting her royal prerogative—what drove him away:

But if thou call to minde: when I did part thee fro,

What was the cause of my exile: and why I did forgo

The happy life I held, and lost therewith thy sight…(1) 

And I in cares doo flame, to thinke of my exile,

That I am barred from thy sight. (1)


Some sort of breakup, then, seems to have prompted Oxford to run away, without royal permission, to France in early 1575 and then spend a year on the continent in 1575-76.

Coincident with the time of Oxford’s return, the poet’s beloved has barred him from her presence. This “exile” confuses him. He hurls a charge of infidelity:

Well mayst thou wayle thy want of troth: & rue thy great unright

If thou be found to fayle thy vow that thou hast sworne…(1)

and could you gree thereto?

Thus to betray your faithful freend, and promis to undo? 

Thy fawning flattering wordes, which now full falce I finde…

Yet pardon I do pray: and if my wordes offend…(3)


He entreats her to explain,

what trespass have I done?/That am banisht thus from thee…(2)


and wonders if false rumors found her ear while he was gone, thus explaining why she won’t see him:

Or if my absence long: to thy disgrace hath wrought mee

Or hindring tales of my back freends: unto such state hath brought mee…

…Yet blame mee not though I doo stand somewhat in feare

The cause is great of my exile, which hardly I do bear. (1)


The poet reminisces about their intimate time together:

And then I call to minde, thy shape and cumly grace,

Thy heavenly hew thy sugred words, thy sweet enticing face

The pleasant passed sportes: that spent the day to end…(2) 


He flatters his beloved by declaring that Venus “Shall yeeld the palme of filed speche, to thee that doth her staine” (2).

Eloquence is one of Elizabeth’s well-known traits. He entreats her to answer a heartfelt, personal question: “How are you?”

But oh Rosanna dere: since time of my exile

How hast thou done? and doost thou live: how hast thou spent the while

How standeth health with thee? and art thou glad of chere? (2)


The poet richly describes the anguish of his feelings for his beloved:

O thou Elrisa fayre, the beuty of thine eyes

Hath bred such bale within my brest, and cau’sde such strife to ryse. (1) 

Awake, asleape, and at my meales, thou doost torment my brest. (1)

Thus Joyfull thoughtes a while, doth lessen much my payne

But after calme and fayer tides, the stormes do come agayne. (1) 

Thy bewty bids mee trust, unto thy promise past,

My absence longe and not to speake: doth make mee doubt as fast. (1)


Despite his hurt, the poet vows eternal loyalty:

But oh Elrisa mine, why doo I stir such war
Within my selfe to thinke of this: and yet thy love so far?
…No length of lingring time: no distance can remoove,
The faith that I have vowed to thee: nor alter once my love. (1) 

the greatest care I have,
Is how to wish and will thee good; and most thy honor save. (2)

Though time that trieth all, hath turnde the love you ought,
No changing time could alter mee: or wrest awry my thought. (3)

I doo commend to thee: my life and all I have. (2) 

I am all thine, and not my owne. (1) 


and begs her to reciprocate:

Bee faythfull sound therfore, bee constant true and just
If thou betray thy loving freend, whom hensforth shall I trust? (2)


But she will not, and perhaps cannot, do so. Befitting our case that the Lord Great Chamberlain is speaking to the Queen of England, the poet understands that their public eminence restrains her and admits they must be discreet, because the world is watching them:

Though Argus jelus eyes: that daily on us tend,
Forbid us meat [meet] and speech also, or message for to send. (2)


But as the third poem’s title indicates, the young man by 1578 had finally realized that his quest was futile. He bids his wished lover “a desperate Farewell.” In the first poem he had begged her,

Let not thy freend to shipwracke go: sith thou doost hold his helme (1)

yet by the third poem he is resolved to the futility of his hopes:

And I thus tost and turnd: whose life to shipwracke goes…. (3)

The poet proved prescient. Elizabeth ignored Oxford’s entreaties, and after her demise the Earl of Oxford wrote to his brother-in-law Robert Cecil on 27 April 1603, lamenting:

“In this common shipwracke, mine is above all the rest.” (3)

Shakespeare uses shipwreck as a metaphor three times: in Henry VI Part 1 (V,v): “driven by breath of her renown/ Either to suffer shipwreck or arrive/ Where I may have fruition of her love”; in Titus Andronicus (II,i): “This siren, that will charm Rome’s Saturnine,/ And see his shipwreck and his commonweal’s”; and in the positive in Twelfth Night (V,i), when Duke Orsino celebrates, “I shall have share in this most happy wrack.”

We may be sure that these three poems form a united group, as all of them are linked in terms of theme and language. In addition to the parallels cited above, the term pistle meaning epistle is in the first two poems; and the image, “hollow lookes, the pale and ledy hew” in the second poem is repeated in the third poem as “pale and lean with hollow lookes.” At the outset of the first poem the poet sighs, “Twice hath my quaking hand withdrawen this pen away,” in the third poem his hesitancy is augmented: “Thrise hath my pen falne downe: upon this paper pale.”

The anonymous poet’s writing fits Shakespeare’s proclivities. There are parallel constructions, serial questions, metaphors of fishing, birding and sailing, “as…so” comparisons, a mention of Ovid, and effective alliteration, for example: “Then should my sorowes seace, and drowne my deepe dispaire.” To shape his entreaties, the poet cites a bevy of classical figures, including Pyramus and Thisby and Troylus and Cressid, whose stories Shakespeare treated in two plays.

The poems are full of Shakespeare’s terms and phrases. The line, “A thousand deathes I do desire” echoes Shakespeare in Henry IV Part 1 (III,ii): “I will die a hundred thousand deaths”; and in Twelfth Night (V,i): “To do you rest, a thousand deaths would die.”

The lines “time too long doth try mee” and “Though time that trieth all” echo in Shakespeare’s Much Ado about Nothing (I,i): “as time shall try.” Variations of “when time shal serve” appear eight times in six Shakespeare plays as well as in Sonnet 19 of The Passionate Pilgrim.

The metaphor “Lament unlustie legges: bee lame for ever more” calls to mind Shakespeare’s line “So I, made lame by fortune’s dearest spite” in Sonnet 37.

The Bard, moreover, links two of these words in King Lear (II,iv): “a man’s/ over-lusty at legs,” and two others in Henry VIII (I,iii): “They have all new legs, and lame ones.”

The poet worries, “stand I halfe in doubt,” but resolves, “I will lay feare aside,” and muses, “Who never durst assaile his foe: did never conquest win”; Shakespeare offers the same ideas in similar words: “Our doubts…make us lose the good we oft might win/ By fearing to attempt” (Measure for Measure, I,iv) and “To outlook conquest and to win renown” (King John, V,ii).

The line, “No more then water soft, can stir a steadfast rocke,” is the flip side of a theme that Shakespeare employs in Troilus and Cressida (III,ii): “When waterdrops have worn the stones of Troy”; in Othello (IV,iii): “Her salt tears fell from her, and soften’d the stones”; and four times in Lucrece, including the mixed-image line, “Tears harden lust, though marble wear with raining.”


What may be interpreted as paired Ver self-references appear several times in these poems:

I never will agree to like, or looke on other wight.

Nor never shall my mouth consent to pleasant sound…(3)

Let never soyle bringe forth, agayn the lusty greene

Nor trees that new despoiled are, with leafe be ever greene (3)

Beleeve this to bee true: that now too true I prove…(3)


and a possible signature also appears to lie within the final line in each of the first and last poems:

And that my love doo never fleet out of thy secret brest…(1)

A better hap and that hee may, a truer Mystrisse finde. (3)

I think these are Oxford’s last love letters to Elizabeth before he gave up on being her lifelong companion. Yet as Oxford’s and Shakespeare’s activities demonstrate, the anonymous poet stayed true to his promise of devoted service.


Proctor, Thomas, ed., A gorgious Gallery, of gallant Inventions…by
divers worthy workemen, London: Richard Jones, 1578.

Fenelon, De la Mothe, July 1571, report to Catherine de Medici. Quoted in

Elizabeth Imlay, “Scoop in the Bibliotheque Nationale,” De Vere Society Newsletter (July 2006): 25.

De Vere, Edward, Earl of Oxford: “Personal Letter to Robert Cecil,” April 27 1603, Letters and Papers of Edward de Vere 17th earl of Oxford: Personal Letters (#39), Ed. Nelson, Alan H. https://socrates.berkeley.edu/~PERSONAL/030427.html.

Transferred to:


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.)

Richard Edwards and Edward de Vere: Re-posting No. 56 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford

“For Tragedy, Lord Buckhurst and Master Edward Ferrys do deserve the highest praise: the Earl of Oxford and Master Edwards of Her Majesty’s Chapel, for Comedy and Enterlude.” The Arte of English Poesie, 1589

Elizabethan musician and poet Richard Edwards was thirty-eight in 1561 when he became Master of the Children of the Chapel Royal, the director of the choirboys who entertained the queen with plays and concerts. In the following year, Edward de Vere arrived in London as the first of Elizabeth’s royal wards. During the rest of his life he would actively patronize the Chapel Children and the Children of St. Paul’s (later known in the countryside as Oxford’s Boys), and an adult acting company as well.

Although “Damon and Pithias” was written and performed for Queen Elizabeth in the Christmas season of 1564, it was first printed in 1571 and attributed to Richard Edwards, who had died in 1566.

In the Christmas season of 1564-65 a play attributed to Edwards was performed by the Chapel Children for Elizabeth and the court at Whitehall. The play, Damon and Pithias, was the first “tragicomedy” in England and the high water mark of English drama up to then. It was set in the royal Greek court of Dionysius, but its closing songs expressed loyalty to the queen by name, revealing that the royal court of Elizabeth had been intended all along – an early example of what would become Shakespeare’s habit of using foreign settings to reflect England itself.

The prologue of Damon and Pithias (printed in 1571), referring to its author, stated that “to some he seemed too much in young desires to range.” Then it switched to the plural “Authors” of the play, adding, “I speak for our defense.”  Did de Vere collaborate on Damon and Pithias with Master Edwards, as the The Arte of English Poesie suggests?  Or was he the sole author of this youthful, highly spirited play?

The closing song evoked Oxford’s motto Nothing Truer than Truth:

True friends talk truly, they gloss for no gain…

True friends for their true prince refuseth not their death.

The Lord grant her such friends, most noble Queen Elizabeth!

Decades later Sonnet 82 by “Shake-speare” would echo those lines:

Thou, truly fair, wert truly sympathized

In true plain words by thy true-telling friend

Christ Church Hall – yes, used in a scene for Harry Potter…

In August 1566 the Queen visited Oxford University and presented de Vere with an honorary Master of Arts degree. [The young earl studied mainly with private tutors.]  During her Majesty’s historic visit she arrived at Christ Church Hall for the student performance of Palamon and Arcyte, a new play attributed to Edwards, dramatizing Chaucer’s Knight’s Tale; and this performance on two separate nights became a major event of campus lore.

Word of mouth from rehearsals and previews had served to build up tremendous excitement and anticipation. After Elizabeth and her court were seated, the incoming crowd swelled to the point that a wall beside the stairs ripped away, crushing three persons to death and injuring five others. Elizabeth sent for her own doctors to help; after all the hurt or dead had been carried off, the show went on as scheduled.

“The Two Noble Kinsmen” as by Fletcher and Shakespeare, printed in 1634, was probably based on surviving parts of the “lost” play “Palamon and Arcyte” by sixteen-year-old Edward de Vere in 1566

Palamon and Arcyte is now a “lost” play, but is often cited as a source of The Two Noble Kinsman, printed nearly seventy years later in 1634 as by (according to the title page) “the memorable Worthies of their times, Mr. John Fletcher and Mr. William Shakespeare, both cited as “Gent.” Scholars have identified the “Shakespearean” sections as well as the “lesser” contributions by Fletcher; but they are baffled as to why the Bard, near the end of his illustrious career, would decide to collaborate with an inferior writer.

The logical answer is that he did nothing of the sort — on the contrary, the “young Shakespeare” wrote Palamon and Arcyte by age sixteen in 1566, with some of his text surviving into the next century, when Fletcher filled in the missing parts, with his own inferior writing, to create the play known as The Two Noble Kinsmen.

During the 1566 performance, with Oxford in attendance, the queen was thrilled by the staging of a “cry of hounds” for Theseus, Duke of Athens. Reacting to the realism of the scene, students began “hallooing” and Elizabeth is reported to have shouted, “O excellent!  Those boys are ready to leap out at windows to follow the hounds!”

Perhaps the author of Hamlet recalled Her Majesty’s delight at the naturalness of it all when he wrote the prince’s statement that “the purpose of playing” is “to hold as ‘twere the mirror up to nature…”

“Hounds at Full Cry” – the oil painting by Thomas Blinks

In the future, A Midsummer Night’s Dream by “Shakespeare” would also present Theseus, Duke of Athens, who says: “My love shall hear the music of my hounds … My hounds are bred out of the Spartan kind … A cry more tuneable was never holloo’d to nor cheered with horn.”  When the queen attended the latter play at court, did she recall the earlier play from 1566? Did she realize that Oxford must have inserted the hounds as a private, shared recollection of those earlier hounds at the university?

The alleged playwriting career of Richard Edwards lasted just two years. His death on 31 October 1566 occurred only weeks after Palamon and Arcyte had been staged for the queen at Oxford. A decade later in 1576 came publication of The Paradise of Dainty Devices, a collection of ninety-nine poems (and/or song lyrics) that Edwards had compiled “for his private use” before he died, according to the printer Henry Disle. Ten of the verses were attributed to “M. Edwardes,” with eight signed “E.O.” for Edward Oxenford, as he often signed his name.

If in fact Edwards had compiled the poems ten years earlier, Oxford would have composed his contributions by age sixteen; but if the earl himself had done the compiling for the 1576 edition, he might have written his own poems at any time up to then. Of the nine contributors whose names or initials appear on the title page, only Oxford and Lord Vaux were noblemen, and the latter was deceased.

There are many unanswered questions about The Paradise, not least of which is how many other verses in the volume might have come from Oxford’s pen. Alexander B. Grosart in Fuller Worthies’ Library of 1872 identified twenty-two poems by de Vere, remarking that “an unlifted shadow lies across his memory.”

“Shakespeare” would later use part of a song, attributed in The Paradise to Edwards, entitled In Commendation of Music (“Where griping grief the heart would wound,” etc.).  The excerpt appears in Romeo and Juliet:

When griping grief the heart doth wound,

And doleful dumps the mind oppress,

Then mustic with her silver sound…(4.5)

Hyder Rollins in his edition of 1927 reports that The Paradise was “the most popular miscellany printed during the reign of Queen Elizabeth” and that by 1606 it had “reached at least a tenth edition.”  Additional poems were included with many of the new printings.

So we find the teenage de Vere and the Master of the Chapel Children with intensely shared interests in music, lyrics, poetry, players and plays, strands of which are all intertwined with, and connected to, the future “Shakespeare” works.

(This reason is now No. 18 in 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford. Many thanks to editor Alex McNeil for his invaluable expertise and help.)

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)


“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.



Gardens & Gardening: Re-posting No. 54 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford

“One occupation, one point of view, above all others, is naturally his, that of a gardener; watching, preserving, tending and caring for growing things, especially flowers and fruit.  All through his plays he thinks most easily and readily of human life and action in the terms of a gardener … it is ever present in Shakespeare’s thought and imagination, so that nearly all his characters share in it.” – Caroline Spurgeon, Shakespeare’s Imagery and what it tells us (1935)

Edward de Vere was a ward of Queen Elizabeth for nine years, living at the London home of William Cecil. “One of the chief features of Cecil House was its garden,” B.M. Ward writes. “The grounds in which the house stood  must have covered many acres, and were more extensive than those of any of the other private homes in Westminster.  John Gerard would become Sir William Cecil’s gardener for twenty years (1578-1597); and Sir William evidently took a great pride in his garden … Cecil imbued his sons and the royal wards under his charge with his own keenness in horticulture.” 

We can easily imagine the teenage lord roaming through the great Cecil gardens, examining and smelling the flowers and learning about them.

John Gerard’s landmark book (1597)

Referring to Cecil’s country seat of Theobalds, Charlton Ogburn Jr. writes that gardens “were laid out on three sides of the mansion by the horticulturalist John Gerard … Trees and shrubs seen rarely if at all in Britain were imported from abroad.  The gardens were widely known in Europe.”

O, what pity is it
That he [the king] had not so trimm’d and dress’d his land
As we this garden! We at time of year
Do wound the bark, the skin of our fruit-trees,
Lest, being over-proud in sap and blood,
With too much riches it confound itself:
Had he done so to great and growing men,
They might have lived to bear and he to taste
Their fruits of duty: superfluous branches
We lop away, that bearing boughs may live:
Had he done so, himself had borne the crown,
Which waste of idle hours hath quite thrown down.

— The Gardener in Richard II (3.4)

The gardener sows the seeds, whereof flowers do grow,

And others yet do gather them, that took less pain I know.

So I the pleasant grape have pulled from the vine,

And yet I languish in great thirst, while others drink the wine.

— Oxford, The Paradise of Dainty Devices, 1576

O thou weed,

Who art so lovely fair and smell’st so sweet

That the sense aches at thee…

When I have plucked the rose,

I cannot give it vital growth again,

It must needs wither: I’ll smell it on the tree.

John Gerard, 1545-1612

— Othello in Othello (4.2 & 5.2)

“What doth avail the tree unless it yield fruit unto another?  What doth avail the rose unless another took pleasure in the smell?  Why should this tree be accounted better than that tree, but for the goodness of his fruit?  Why should this vine be better than that vine, unless it brought forth a better grape than the other?  Why should this rose be better esteemed than that rose, unless in pleasantness of smell it far surpassed the other rose?  And so it is in all other things as well as in man.” – Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford, prefatory letter to Cardanus’ Comfort, 1573

“Shakespeare’s Imagery” by Caroline Spurgeon, 1935

The laboring man that tills the fertile soil

And reaps the harvest fruit, hath not indeed

The gain but pain, and if for all his toil

He gets the straw, the Lord will have the seed.

The machete fine falls not unto his share,

On coarset cheat, his hungry stomach feeds.

The landlord doth possess the finest fare,

He pulls the flowers, the other plucks but weeds.

– Oxford’s poem for Cardanus’ Comfort, 1573

Oxford was uniquely positioned to assume the point of view of the gardener, as well as to acquire the love and knowledge of seeds, plants, flowers and trees exhibited by Shakespeare.

(This reason is number 65 in 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford)

“Performance in the Tiltyard” — Re-Posting No. 52 of 100 Reasons Why the Earl of Oxford was “Shake-speare”

Whitehall Palace, 22 January 1581:

The Old Whitehall Palace by Hendrick Dankerts, 17th century. Before it was destroyed by fire in 1698, Whitehall was the largest palace in Europe, with more than 1,500 rooms.

An overflow crowd at the Whitehall Tiltyard watches thirty-year-old Edward de Vere as he once again proves himself a master showman. The spectators gasp as he emerges from his magnificent tent, appearing as the Knight of the Tree of the Sunne. His boy-page approaches Queen Elizabeth and, facing her, delivers a “Sweet Speech” (written, no doubt, by the earl himself). Now, after an exchange with his delighted queen, Oxford mounts his horse and rides to defend his title against the challenger. At the end he is still champion of the tilt; and members of the cheering, frenzied crowd race to tear the tent and the tree into pieces.

This dramatic episode of the Elizabethan reign will be described eleven years later, in 1592, in a book published by Cuthbert Burby ( who will also issue three quartos of the “Shakespeare” plays,  including  Romeo and Juliet in 1599 as “newly corrected, augmented and amended” by the author himself).  The description of Oxford’s 1581 production (rendered in more modern English) in the tiltyard (without the page’s Sweet Speech) follows:

“By the tilt stood a stately Tent of Orange tawny Taffeta, curiously embroidered with Silver & pendants on the Pinnacles very slightly to behold.  From forth this Tent came the noble Earl of Oxenford in rich gilt Armor, and sat down under a great high Bay-tree, the whole stock, branches and leaves whereof were all gilded over, that nothing but Gold could be discerned.

A Bay-Tree, this one with a spiral stem. Bay-trees can grow much larger.

“By the Tree stood twelve tilting staves, all which likewise were gilded clean over.  After a solemn sound of most sweet Music, he mounted on his Courser, very richly caparisoned, when his page ascending the stairs where her Highness stood in the window, delivered to her by speech this Oration:


“The speech being ended, with great honor he ran, and valiantly broke all the twelve staves. 

And after the finishing of the sports: both the rich Bay-tree, and the beautiful Tent, were by the standers-by torn and rent in more pieces than can be numbered.”

When J. Thomas Looney identified Oxford as “Shakespeare” in 1920, he was probably unaware of this “show” that the earl produced, directed and starred in.  But let us imagine Looney making observations and gathering evidence, which would come together as an initial theory of Shakespearean authorship, and then coming upon the above account of an event in Oxford’s life.  Isn’t it just the kind of thing he might have expected and hoped to find?

There is a clear link between Oxford’s appearance in 1581 before Queen Elizabeth as “the Knight of the Tree of the Sunne” and the allegorical elegy The Phoenix and Turtle, published in 1601 as by “William Shake-speare” in a compilation of verses called Love’s Martyr or Rosalins Complaint. In his 1581 tiltyard performance Oxford had depicted Elizabeth as the Phoenix, the mythical bird that consumes itself in flames ignited by the sun and is reborn from its own ashes; even earlier, the queen herself had used the Phoenix as a symbol of her chastity and of the rebirth (through succession to the throne) of her Tudor dynasty.

Oxford depicted himself as the queen’s loyal knight devoted to protecting “the Tree of the Sunne” — the single (or sole) Arabian tree in which the Phoenix had her nest, symbolic of the English throne and Elizabeth’s dynastic seat. The earl’s page delivered an oration to the queen describing how the earl had made “a solemn vow to incorporate his heart into that Tree,” adding that “as there is but one Sun to shine over it, one root to give life unto it, one top to maintain Majesty, so there should be but one Knight, either to live or die for the defense thereof.” Oxford was symbolically merging with Elizabeth, as if they were a single entity, and pledging to protect the queen and her dynasty with his “constant loyalty” as well as with his life.

(This post is now No. 4 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford.)


(Thanks to editor Alex McNeil for his expert help; and to Brian Bechtold for his editorial assistance)







Oxford’s Military Knowledge: Re-Posting Reason 51 Why he was “Shake-speare”

“Warfare is everywhere in Shakespeare, and the military action in many of Shakespeare’s plays, and the military imagery in all his plays and poems show that he possessed an extraordinarily detailed knowledge of warfare, both ancient and modern.” – Charles Edelman, “Shakespeare’s Military Language” (2000)

The Elizabethan army in Ireland

Edelman’s book provides “a comprehensive account of Shakespeare’s portrayal of military life, tactics and technology and explores how the plays comment upon military incidents and personalities of the Elizabethan era.”

How do orthodox biographers imagine Shakspere of Stratford accumulating such “extraordinarily detailed knowledge” of warfare and military matters? Is it through  automatic assimilation, by which all intricacies are miraculously absorbed into the very fiber of his being and translated into the dialogue of characters in his plays?

“Shakespeare expresses the courtier-soldier’s point of view too clearly and naturally and displays far too familiar a grasp of military methods, objectives and colloquialisms not to have acquired this knowledge through serious study – plus firsthand experience – of the arts of war,” Charles Barrell writes. “No such study and experience can be documented in the career of the Stratford native.”

At issue is “information” as opposed to innate genius – the former term defined (by my dictionary) as knowledge “communicated or received concerning particular facts or circumstances,” or otherwise “gained through study, research, instruction, experience.”   The great author’s information about military life was not genetically inherited; it was acquired. He draws upon his wealth of information not in any calculated way but, rather, spontaneously, during the white heat of composition, and employs it for various purposes the way an artist will mix paints on his canvas.

On and on come the military terms in the plays, as in 2 Henry IV,  for example, with words such as alarum, ancient, archer, beacon, beaver, besonian, blank, bounce, bullet, Caesar’s thrasonical brag, caliver, captain, chamber, charge, cavalier, chivalry, coat, corporal.

“In every outstanding instance of specialized knowledge,” Barrell notes, “Oxford’s personal familiarity with the subject can be categorically documented; and this is particularly true in respect to ‘Shakespeare’s’ fund of military information.” The earl unquestionably acquired information about “military life, tactics and technology” in ways such as these:

Horatio Vere

*  Oxford’s cousins Horatio and Francis Vere, known as the “Fighting Veres” for their exploits as soldiers, may have been the models for the soldiers Horatio and Francisco in Hamlet.

Francis Vere (1560-1609)

* Oxford’s brother-in-law Peregrine Bertie, Lord Willoughby d’Eresby, devoted his life to the political and military service of Queen Elizabeth.

*  When the Northern Rebellion of powerful Catholic earls began in November 1569, Oxford at nineteen requested military service, which was granted in the spring of 1570, when he served under Sussex. The chief action he would have seen was the siege of Hume Castle, whose defenders surrendered to avoid any further bombardment – an episode that calls to mind the siege of Harfleur by Henry the Fifth.

Hume Castle

*  Oxford was champion of his first tournament at the Whitehall Tiltyard, in May 1571, performing “far above expectation of the world” in front of Queen Elizabeth and the royal court.  He blazed his way “with fiery energy,” contemporary Giles Fletcher wrote, summoning “a mimicry of war” as he “controls his foaming steed with a light rein, and armed with a long spear rides to the encounter … Bravo, valiant youth!  ‘Tis thus that martial spirits pass through their apprenticeship in war … The country sees in thee both a leader pre-eminent in war, and a skillful man-at-arms…” A decade later, in January 1581, Oxford prevailed as champion of his second and final such tournament.

*  In August 1572 he played the starring role in the staged military battle at Warwick Castle, leading 200 armed soldiers of one fortified position against those of another; and the contemporary account of this extravagant and realistic entertainment supplied the kind of military terms to appear later in the “Shakespeare” plays:  “battering pieces … chambers … mortar pieces … assaults … calivers … arquebuses …”

The Defense of Militaire Profession was published in 1579, “wherein is eloquently shewed the due commendation of Martiall prowess, and plainly proved how necessary the exercise of Armes is for this our age.” It  was dedicated by its author, Geffrey Gates, “To the Right honorable Edward de Vere, Earle of Oxenford.”  The publisher, John Harrison, would later issue Venus and Adonis in 1593 and Lucrece in 1594, introducing “William Shakespeare” by way of the dedications to Southampton, with both narrative poems having been personally overseen by the poet.

*  On June 25, 1585, Oxford wrote to Burghley asking for a loan to help in his suit for a military command in the Netherlands in England’s impending war with Spain. In this letter he launched into a Shakespearean string of military metaphors, writing, “For, being now almost at a point to taste that good which her Majesty shall determine, yet am I as one that hath long besieged a fort and not able to compass the end or reap the fruit of his travail, being forced to levy his siege for want of munition.”

(“Munition” was not a common word at the time, but “Shakespeare” used it more than once, as when Gloucester in 1 Henry VI declares, “I’ll to the Tower with all the haste I can/ To view the artillery and munition” [1.1])

*  Later that summer, Oxford (at age thirty-five) was commissioned to command a company of horse in the Low Countries.  “Five or six thousand English soldiers have arrived in Flanders with the Earl of Oxford and Colonel Norris,” came one report in September.  A month later, however, the queen commanded Oxford to return home and sent Leicester, who, having maneuvered his way into replacing Oxford, would proceed to disgrace himself by his behavior in Holland.

*  Oxford was reported among the many “honorable personages” in the summer of 1588 who “were suddenly embarked, committing themselves unto the present chance of war” when the Spanish Armada arrived on its mission to crush England.  Apparently Oxford’s ship was disabled, because he went directly home for his armor, and even his enemy Leicester reported that “he seems most willing to hazard his life in this quarrel.”

How did “Shakespeare” acquire his military knowledge?  The life of Oxford provides the most plausible answer. Immediately inside the cover page of The Defense of Militarie Profession is the coat of arms usually used by Oxford, with his earldom motto VERO NIHIL VERIUS (“Nothing Truer than Truth”) displayed along the bottom.

On the first righthand page begins the dedication “TO THE RIGHT honorable, Edward de Vere, Earle of Oxenford, vicount Bulbecke, Lord of Escales and Baldesmere, and Lord great Chamberlaine of England.” It continues: “It hath been an old controversy in the opinion of the English nation what profession of life is most honorable in worldly states…”


De Vere not only acted as the writer’s patron, but also financed the publication; beyond that, he took great interest in this work and likely contributed a great deal to it behind the scenes.

Back in November 1569, when the Northern Rebellion had begun, Oxford wrote to Cecil asking for military service against the powerful Catholic earls of the north.  To the nineteen-year-old earl, such service was the most honorable course.  He told his guardian that at this time I am bold to desire your favour and friendship that you will suffer me to be employed by your means and help in this service that now is in hand.”

He reminded Cecil that “heretofore you have given me your good word to have me see the wars and services in strange and foreign places … Now you will do me so much honour as that by your purchase of my License I may be called to the service of my prince and country …”

In September 1572, after the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacrre of Protestants in France, Oxford wrote to Burghley saying he would be eager to serve the Queen on the Continent: “I had rather serve there than at home where yet some honor were to be got; if there be any setting forth to sea, to which service I bear most affection, I shall desire your Lordship to give me and get me that favour and credit, that I might make one.  Which if there be no such intention, then I shall be most willing to be employed on the sea coasts, to be in a readiness with my countrymen against any invasion.”

Oxford never lost his eagerness to serve as a military man, always connecting that activity with honor.  It is easy to imagine him composing Hamlet and having Ophelia cry out,

O what a noble mind is here o’erthrown!

The courtier’s, soldier’s, scholar’s, eye, tongue, sword,

The expectancy and rose of the fair state!

Edward Earl of Oxford was all that and much more.

(Note: This post is now No. 59 in 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford.)

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