The Earl of Southampton: Re-posting No. 28 of 100 Reasons Why Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford

One of the most compelling reasons to believe Edward de Vere, seventeenth Earl of Oxford was “Shakespeare” is the central role in the Shakespeare story played by Henry Wriothesley, third Earl of Southampton.

Henry Earl of Southampton in his teens, by Nicholas Hilliard

The grand entrance of “William Shakespeare” onto the published page took place in 1593, as the printed signature on the dedication to Southampton of Venus and Adonis, a 1200-line poem that the poet called “the first heir of my invention” in his dedication. The second appearance of “William Shakespeare” in print came a year later, with the publication of an 1800-line poem, Lucrece, again dedicated to Southampton.

The Lucrece dedication was an extraordinary declaration of personal commitment to the twenty-year-old earl:

“The love I dedicate to your Lordship is without end … What I have done is yours, what I have to do is yours, being part in all I have, devoted yours … Your Lordship’s in all duty, William Shakespeare.”

“There is no other dedication like this in Elizabethan literature,” Nichol Smith wrote in 1916, and because the great author never dedicated another work to anyone else, he uniquely linked himself to Southampton for all time.

Southampton at 22 in 1595

Most scholars agree that the Fair Youth of Shake-speares Sonnets, the sequence of 154 consecutively numbered poems printed in 1609, is also Southampton, even though he is not identified by name. Most further agree that, in the first seventeen sonnets, the poet is urging Southampton to beget a child to continue his bloodline – demanding it in a way that would ordinarily have been highly offensive: “Make thee another self, for love of me.”

“It is certain that the Earl of Southampton and the poet we know as Shakespeare were on intimate terms,” Charlton Ogburn Jr. wrote in 1984, “but Charlotte G. Stopes, Southampton’s pioneer biographer [1922] spent seven years or more combing the records of the Earl and his family without turning up a single indication that the fashionable young lord had ever had any contact with a Shakespeare, and for that reason deemed the great work of her life a failure.”

“Oxford was a nobleman of the same high rank as Southampton and just a generation older,” J. Thomas Looney wrote in 1920, adding that “the peculiar circumstances of the youth to whom the Sonnets were addressed were strikingly analogous to his own.”

William Cecil Lord Burghley, Master of the Royal Wards

  • De Vere became the first royal ward of Queen Elizabeth in 1562, under the guardianship of William Cecil (later Lord Burghley), and in 1571 he entered into an arranged marriage with the chief minister’s fifteen-year-old daughter, Anne Cecil.
  • Henry Wriothesley became the eighth and last child of state as a boy in 1581-82, also in the chief minister’s custody, and during 1590-91 he resisted intense pressure to enter into an arranged marriage with Cecil’s fifteen-year-old granddaughter, Elizabeth Vere.

The young lady was also Oxford’s daughter, making the elder earl, in fact, the prospective father-in-law. Scholars generally agree that in the seventeen “procreation” sonnets Shakespeare’s tone sounds much like that of a prospective father-in-law or father urging Southampton to accept Burghley’s choice of a wife for him, although the poet never identifies or describes any specific young woman.

Lady Elizabeth Vere, who married William Stanley Earl of Derby in 1595

J. Dover Wilson writes in 1964: “What man in the whole world, except a father or a potential father-in-law, cares whether any other man gets married?”

Obviously, de Vere and Wriothesley both had an extremely important personal stake in the outcome of this marriage proposal coming from the most powerful man in England, who must have had the full blessing of his sovereign Mistress.

Looney noted that both Oxford and Southampton “had been left orphans and royal wards at an early age, both had been brought up under the same guardian, both had the same kind of literary tastes and interests, and later the young man followed exactly the same course as the elder as a patron of literature and drama.”

The separate entries for Oxford and Southampton in the Dictionary of National Biography, written before the twentieth century, revealed that “in many of its leading features the life of the younger man is a reproduction of the life of the elder,” Looney noted, adding it was “difficult to resist the feeling that Wriothesley had made a hero of De Vere, and had attempted to model his life on that of his predecessor as royal ward.”

A Notice of the Essex-Southampton Trial of Feb. 19, 1600 (1601) with Edward de Vere given prominence as a judge on the tribunal

By the time Southampton came to court at age sixteen or seventeen, Oxford had removed himself from active attendance. It seems that the two shared some kind of hidden story that tied them together:

= As royal wards, both Oxford and Southampton had Queen Elizabeth as their official mother. Even though their respective biological mothers were alive when their fathers died, under English law they became wards of the state, and the queen became their mother in a legal sense.

= Tradition has it that Shakespeare wrote Love’s Labour’s Lost in the early 1590s for Southampton to entertain college friends at his country house; but given the sophisticated wordplay of this court comedy and its intended aristocratic audience, it is difficult to see how Will of Stratford would or could have written it.

= Oxford in the early 1590s was Southampton’s prospective father-in-law.

= After the failed Essex Rebellion in February 1601, Oxford sat as highest-ranking earl on the tribunal for the treason trial of Essex and Southampton.

= The peers had no choice but to render a unanimous guilty verdict; there is evidence that Oxford then worked behind the scenes to save Southampton’s life and gain his eventual liberation, as in Sonnet 35: “Thy adverse party is thy Advocate.”

= On the night of Oxford’s reported death on 24 June 1604, agents of the Crown arrested Southampton and returned him to the Tower, where he was interrogated all night until his release the following day.

= Henry Wriothesley and Henry de Vere, eighteenth Earl of Oxford (born in February 1593 to Oxford and his second wife, Elizabeth Trentham) became close friends during the reign of James; the earls were known as the “Two Henries.” As members of the House of Lords, they often took sides against the king and were imprisoned for doing so.

On the eve of the failed rebellion led by Essex and Southampton in 1601, some of the conspirators engaged the Lord Chamberlain’s Company to perform Shakespeare’s royal history play Richard II at the Globe; many historians assume, perhaps correctly, that Southampton himself secured permission from “Shakespeare” to use the play with its scene of the deposing of the king. On the other hand, it is possible that Robert Cecil himself arranged for it, so he could then summon Essex to court and trigger the rebellion, which had actually been scheduled for a week later.

Once the rebellion failed and Southampton was imprisoned in the Tower on that night of 8 February 1601, all authorized printings of heretofore unpublished Shakespeare plays abruptly ceased for several years.

After Southampton was released on 10 April 1603, the poet “Shake-speare” wrote Sonnet 107 celebrating his liberation after being “supposed as forfeit to a confined doom,” that is, subjected to a sentence of life imprisonment.

The White Tower where Southampton was imprisoned

When Oxford reportedly died on 24 June 1604, a complete text of Hamlet was published.

As part of Christmas and New Year’s celebrations surrounding the wedding of Philip Herbert, Earl of Montgomery and Oxford’s daughter Susan Vere in December of 1604, the Court of James held a veritable Shakespeare festival. In the days before and after the wedding, seven performances of the Bard’s plays were given. (The royal performances appear to be a memorial tribute to the playwright, rather than a tribute to a living author.) One performance was a revival of Love’s Labour’s Lost, for King James and Queen Anne, hosted by Southampton at his house in London.

After Hamlet in 1604 all publications again ceased, for four years. (King Lear was printed in 1608; Troilus and Cressida was issued in two editions during 1608-09; and Pericles appeared in 1609.) Then the silence resumed, for thirteen more years, until a quarto of Othello appeared in 1622; and finally the First Folio of thirty-six Shakespeare plays was published in 1623. Fully half of these stage works were printed for the first time; the folio included none of the Shakespeare poetry, nor any mention of Southampton or the Sonnets.

The connections between Oxford and Southampton are numerous and significant; the link between the two earls is crucial for the quest to determine the real Shakespeare.

[This post is now Reason 53 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford, edited by Alex McNeil with editorial assistance from Brian Bechtold.]

Anthony Munday: No. 27 of 100 Reasons Why Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford (as it now appears in the book)

Anthony Munday was an actor-printer-writer-translator and anti-Catholic spy who signed himself “Servant to the Right Honourable  the Earl of Oxenford.”  Oscar James Campbell is one of many traditional Shakespeare scholars who note the following points of interest about this writer of whom Oxford was the patron:

Shakespeare contributed an addition to the play Sir Thomas More (1592), the first draft of which had been written by Munday.

Shakespeare found incidents and ideas for A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1594) from Munday’s play John a Kent.

Shakespeare wrote parts of  The Merchant of Venice (1596) by drawing upon Munday’s long prose romance Zelanto, or The Fountain of Fame.

Shakespeare got his general plot outline for Much Ado About Nothing (1598) from Fedele and Fortunio, an Italian play adapted by Munday.

Shakespeare received inspiration for the idyllic green world of the forest in As You Like It (1599) from a play about Robin Hood by Munday.

In the traditional view it appears that during the 1590s the Bard grabbed stuff from Munday whenever he wanted; the reality, I suggest, was the other way around. Munday was one of many writers who served as secretaries to Oxford during the 1570s and 1580s and benefited from his reckless generosity (Oxford provided money, work space, inspiration and instruction) as they developed the English renaissance of literature and drama. I suggest that in the next decade Oxford adopted plots and characters that he himself had originated and had shared with Munday and other writers under his wing.

Edward de Vere

The son of a London draper, Munday had been an actor, most likely in Oxford’s boy company and then in his adult troupe. In 1576 he became an apprentice to John Allde, the stationer whose son, Edward Allde, would later print several Shakespeare quartos. Two years later Munday journeyed to Rome “to see strange countries and learn foreign languages,” as he recalls in English Romayne Lyfe (1582), but Campbell and others state he was actually a spy sent to report on the English Jesuit College in Rome. He returned to England by 1579, when he “may have become an actor again, with the Earl of Oxford’s company,” and that year he published The Mirror of Mutability, dedicating it to his patron and including the following poem to him:

E xcept I should in friendship seem ingrate,

D enying duty, whereto I am bound;

W ith letting slip your Honour’s worthy state,

A t all assays, which I have noble found.

R ight well I might refrain to handle pen:

D enouncing aye the company of men.


D own, dire despair, let courage come in place,

E xalt his fame whom Honour doth embrace


V irtue hath aye adorn’d your valiant heart,

E xampl’d by your deeds of lasting fame:

R egarding such as take God Mars his part

E ach where by proof, in honour and in name.


Munday referred to Oxford’s “courteous and gentle perusing” of his writings. As B.M. Ward notes, the earl was “no ordinary patron,” since he was “willing to give both his time and attention to manuscripts submitted to him, and could be relied on to make suggestions and offer advice.” Oxford and his Euphuists aimed to refine and enrich the English language, believing in the magic of words and the power of imagery, while Philip Sidney and the Romanticists wanted to retail old stories of knighthood to make them more accessible.

Philip Sidney

In 1580 Munday dedicated his novel Zelato, The Fountain of Fame to de Vere (“By A.M., Servant to the Right Honourable the Earle of Oxenford”), praising “the rare virtues of your noble mind” and declaring that “among all the brave books which have been bestowed [upon you], these my little labours contain so much faithful zeal to your welfare as [all] others whatsoever.” He also wrote that the book was “Given for a friendly entertainment to Euphues” — revealing, in effect, that the character of Euphues stood for Oxford himself.

Munday was one of the chief witnesses against Edmund Campion, the Jesuit priest who was hanged, drawn and quartered on December 1, 1581; part of Munday’s savage tract A Discoverie of Edmund Campion and his Confederates was read aloud from the scaffold at Tyrburn. His political services against Catholics were rewarded in 1584, when he received the post of Messenger of Her Majesty’s Chamber.

In his 1588 dedication of Palmerin d’Olivia, Pt. 2, a translation, Munday spoke of Oxford’s “special knowledge” of foreign languages and referred to his “precious virtues, which makes him generally beloved” and of “mine only duty, which nothing but death can discharge.” (Only the 1616 reprint containing this information is extant.) Oxford died in 1604, but Munday would never forget his master; in 1619 he dedicated all three parts of a new edition of his Primaleon of Greece to Oxford’s son Henry de Vere, 18th Earl of Oxford, and spoke of “having served that noble Earl your father of famous and desertful memory” and of “your honourable father’s matchless virtues.”

[This post is now Reason 35 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford.]

“One Whose Power Floweth Far”: Re-Posting No. 26 of 100 Reasons why Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford

A thick volume printed for the Roxburghe Club of London in 1882 featured an Elizabethan book of two narrative poems, Cephalus and Procris and Narcissus, translated from Ovid by the otherwise unknown Thomas Edwards.  It was registered in 1593 and printed in 1595, just after the “Shakespeare” name had made its debut on the dedications of Venus and Adonis of 1593 and Lucrece of 1594 to the Earl of Southampton.

Attached to Narcissus was an “envoy” or postscript in several stanzas of verse, identifying major poets by characters in their works: “Collyn Clout” for Spenser; “Rosamond” for Daniel; “Leander” for Marlowe; and “Adon”  for Shakespeare.

This was followed immediately by reference to a poet “in purple robes distained … whose power floweth far” with his “bewitching pen” and “golden art” that should make him “the only object and the star” of England’s writers.

Who was this poet, said to be the best of all?

In the Roxburghe appendix, one scholar identifiedthe star” as Edward de Vere while another said it must be a description of Shakespeare! If those two scholars of the late nineteenth century had been in the same room at the same time, one identifying Oxford and the other pointing to Shakespeare, might it have occurred to them that maybe they were both talking about the same man?  If so, they would have solved the authorship question then and there.

Here, in modernized English, is the stanza praising Shakespeare as “Adon,” followed by those praising the poet who “should have been … the only object and the star”:

Adon deafly masking through 

Stately troupes rich conceited,

Showed he well deserved to,

Love’s delight on him to gaze,

And had not love herself entreated,

Other nymphs had sent him bays.

Eke in purple robes distained,

Amidst the Center of this clime,

I have heard say doth remain

One whose power floweth far,

That should have been of our rhyme

The only object and the star.


Blackfriars Playhouse

Well could his bewitching pen

Done the Muses’ objects to us;

Although he differs much from men

Tilting under Frieries,

Yet his golden art might woo us

To have honored him with bays. [Emphases added.]

[Note that the first stanza about Adon, and the second of the next two stanzas about “one whose power floweth far,” conclude with “bays” – perhaps intended as a way for readers to link all three stanzas in their praise of a single poet.]

Roxburghe Club editor W.E. Buckley reported how one scholar identified Oxford and the other pointed to Shakespeare:

Edward Dowden (1843-1913)

“If ‘purple robes’ may mean a Nobleman’s robes, it gives some colour to the conjecture of Professor [Edward] Dowden, that Vere, Earl of Oxford, may have been intended, ‘as his reputation stood high as a Poet and Patron of Poets’ … Dr. B. Nicholson is of opinion that these two stanza must be connected with the preceding one in which Adon — that is, Shakspere — is described.”

Buckley noted that The Arte of English Poesie (1589) had named Oxford “first among the crew of courtly makers” and that Edmund Spenser had written a dedicatory sonnet to the earl in The Faire Queen of 1590 “in which he speaks of ‘the love that thou didst bear To th’Heliconian Nymphs, and they to thee.’  His ‘power flowed far’ as he was Lord High Chamberlain of England.  He had contributed to The Paradise of Dainty Devices, signing E.O. or E. Ox. [1576] and to The Phoenix Nest in 1593.  One of his poems is a vision of a Fair Maid (‘clad all in color of a Nun and covered with a Vail’) who complains of love and gets Echo answers of ‘Vere.’  In another, Oxford represents himself as ‘wearing black and tawny’ and [having] ‘no bays’ …”

Prior to John Thomas Looney’s identification of de Vere in 1920, orthodox scholars could mention him in a positive light without worrying about giving any ground in the authorship debate. Buckley also referred to a statement made by the literary antiquary Thomas Coxeter (1689-1747): Oxford was said by Coxeter to have translated Ovid, which would connect him with Narcissus, but no one has ever seen his Ovid.”

The street fighting in “Romeo and Juliet” is a mirror image of the “tilting” at Blackfriars involving Oxford’s men

An important contribution to work on the Narcissus L’Envoy was done by Dr. Roger Stritmatter, who introduced new evidence allowing “definitive identification of the phrase ‘tilting under Frieries’ as referring to a notorious series of Blackfriars street fights (1582-85) involving Oxford’s retainers.”  The fighting, in which Oxford was wounded and lamed for life, “left an indelible impression in the popular imagination of the era,” he writes, citing a series of documents (transcribed by Alan Nelson  for his Oxford biography Monstrous Adversary) confirming that the earl’s men were “tilting under frieries” in spring 1582 at Blackfriars. Stritmatter further observes:

“The significance of this finding, identifying Oxford as the poet with the ‘bewitching pen’ who ‘should have been’ – but cannot be – the ‘only object and the star’ of the chorus of the Elizabethan poets, should not be underestimated. Without doubt, the 1582-83 Oxford-Knyvet affair at Blackfriars was the most striking instance of ’tilting under Frieries’ during the thirty-seven years of Elizabeth’s reign that informed the imagery and diction of Edwardes’ enigmatic poem.  Before the fray had ended, a literary peer of the realm had been lamed for life, and followers of both factions wounded or killed.  The concealed poet of ‘bewitching pen’ and ‘golden art’ – whose men were in 1582 notoriously ’tilting under frieries’ – is none other than the still controversial Edward de Vere.”

The “Envoy to Narcissus” is an example of how, soon after publication of Venus and Adonis and the first appearance of the “Shakespeare” name in print, writers were already dropping hints about the presence of an author – in fact the “star” among them – who had chosen to withhold his identity. The chatter was growing from the start.

[This reason, with tremendous help from Editor Alex McNeil, as well as Brian Bechtold, is now no. 31 in 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford).


Oxford’s Thousand-Pound Grant: Re-posting No. 25 of 100 Reasons He Was “Shakespeare”

“But if Her Majesty, in regard of my youth, time, and fortune spent in her Court, and her favors and promises which drew me on without any mistrust, the more to presume in mine own expenses…” – Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford to Robert Ceil, 2 February 1601, describing how he had gone bankrupt in financing his activities (which were not specified) for Queen Elizabeth and the English government.

On June 26, 1586, when England was two years into the official war with Spain and bracing for King Philip’s invasion, the queen signed a warrant granting Oxford an extraordinary allowance of 1,000 pounds per year (roughly equivalent to about $400,000 today; also, in Elizabethan times a pound could buy much more than now). The grant was to be paid to him by the Exchequer, by the same formula for payments to Francis Walsingham and his wartime secret service: in quarterly installments with no accounting required.

Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603)

At this time the English government desperately needed all available cash for military defense; moreover, Walsingham required a constant flow of cash to pay foreign and domestic spies. Back in 1582 the Queen had given him 750 pounds; in 1586 she raised it to 2,000 pounds, but that would be the limit for her spymaster, even during the crucial year 1588.

Sir Francis Walsingham (1532-1590)

Why would Elizabeth, known for being a parsimonious (some would say miserly) monarch, choose to support a “spendthrift” nobleman who had “wasted” the vast bulk of his great inheritance?  Why would she do so at this most perilous moment for the nation?

De Vere’s grant went unnoticed by historians until two years after John Thomas Looney published his work on Oxford as “Shakespeare” in 1920.  Inspired to conduct further research, B. M. Ward discovered Elizabeth’s signature on the Privy Seal Warrant and then looked at surviving records for all other salaries and annuities paid from the Exchequer during her reign.  Aside from sums paid to King James VI of Scotland for political reasons, Ward found that the grant to Oxford was larger than any other except for the award to Walsingham and an annual 1,200-pound grant to the Master of the Posts for the ongoing expenses of that office.

As Ward noted, there is no hint as to the purpose of the grant except that it was “to be continued unto him during Our pleasure, or until such time as he shall be by us otherwise provided for to be in some manner relieved, at what time our pleasure is that this payment of one thousand pounds yearly to our said cousin in manner above specified shall cease.”

Blackfriars Playhouse – In the 1580’s Oxford gave the lease of it to John Lyly

By 1586, the thirty-six-year-old de Vere was, in fact, broke; he surely did need “to be in some manner relieved,” but the circumstantial evidence clearly suggests he had been working with Walsingham (and William Cecil Lord Burghley) to serve the government’s interests.  The evidence points to him playing a multifaceted role behind the scenes that included, but was not limited to, the issuance of his own “comedies” for the stage.

Oxford actively patronized two acting companies performing at the private Blackfriars Playhouse and at the royal court.  He patronized and/or employed many literary men for whom he provided working space, inspiration, guidance and freedom from the wartime suppression of written words and speech.  Some of the writers in his service, such as Anthony Munday and Thomas Watson, operated as secret service agents (as did Christopher Marlowe) while using their artistic activities as public cover. Others working under his wing included Robert Greene, John Lyly and Thomas Lodge.

The anonymous play The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth was performed by the Queen’s Men in the 1580’s

“The formation of the Queen’s Men in 1583 should be regarded particularly in connection with the intelligence system,” Scott McMillin and Sally-Beth MacLean write in The Queen’s Men and Their Plays (1998). “The point is not that the Queen’s Men were spies, but that traveling players wearing the Queen’s livery would have been useful to Walsingham – perhaps for occasionally bearing messages to the right persons, more obviously for showing that the central government was attending to the nation through its licensed travelers.”

With two companies on tour (except during the winter season, when they played at court), the Queen’s Men performed plays that would rouse patriotic fervor and encourage unity among Protestants and Catholics in the face of the coming Spanish invasion.  To call this “propaganda” would be true, but not the whole of it. Oxford had spent much of his fortune on helping to bring the European Renaissance to England – a result of his travels in 1575-1576 through France, Germany and Italy, and his employment of various artists who would create the great surge of English literature and drama in the 1580s, leading to the emergence of “Shakespeare” in the following decade.

The writers in Oxford’s orbit were creating a new English language, culture and national identity; these were weapons as important as ships and guns in building England’s ability and will to withstand attack. We cannot expect, however, to find these matters written down in the Queen’s Privy Seal Warrant authorizing his grant.

In the early 1660s, the Rev. John Ward, vicar of Stratford Parish in Warwickshire, recorded local rumors in his diary that “Shakespeare” had “supplied the stage with two plays every year and for that had an allowance so large that he spent at the rate of a thousand pounds a year.”

The Armada Battle

In fact, Oxford received his annual 1,000 pounds during the rest of the Anglo-Spanish War, from 1586 through the death of Elizabeth in 1603 and the succession of James, until his own death in 1604.  That amounts to eighteen years, and, of course, two plays per year equals thirty-six, the number of works published in the First Folio of Shakespeare plays in 1623.  There is no record that Will Shakspere of Stratford-upon-Avon ever received any allowance from the government or from anyone else.

It looks as though Rev. Ward had come into some accurate information about England’s greatest writer, even though, by that time, the author’s identity had been paved over and sealed by official history.

(Note: This post now appears as No. 43 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford.)

The Italian Connection – Reposting No. 24 of 100 Reasons Why Edward de Vere was Shake-speare

When the case for Edward de Vere as “Shakespeare” finally gains popular acceptance, not the least reason will be the overwhelming evidence that the author (no matter who he was) had traveled in Italy and must have lived in Venice for a time. Such was the experience of twenty-five-year-old Oxford in 1575, when he was welcomed in one place after another as an illustrious dignity from the English court — a young, high-born nobleman absorbing this land and its people and the Italian renaissance.

In fact, it was a play set in Italy that inspired Thomas Looney’s search for “Shakespeare,” as he wrote in 1920:

“For several years in succession I had been called upon to go through repeated courses of reading in one particular play of Shakespeare’s, namely The Merchant of Venice. This long continued familiarity with the contents of one play induced a peculiar sense of intimacy with the mind and disposition of its author and his outlook upon life. The personality which seemed to run through the pages of the drama I felt to be altogether out of relationship with what was taught of the reputed author and the ascertained facts of his career.”

He continues:

“For example, the Stratford Shakespeare was untraveled, having moved from his native place to London when a young man, and then as a successful middle-aged man of business he had returned to Stratford to attend to his lands and houses. This particular play on the contrary bespeaks a writer who knew Italy at first hand and was touched with the life and spirit of the country. Again the play suggested an author with no great respect for money and business methods, but rather one to whom material possessions would be in the nature of an encumbrance to be easily and lightly disposed of: at any rate one who was by no means of an acquisitive disposition.”

Now, nearly a century later, another book, The Shakespeare Guide to Italy by Richard Paul Roe (2012), is finally breaking down the rigid walls of Stratfordian tradition as readers demand better explanations. Roe died in 2010 at eighty-eight, having spent the last quarter-century of his life traveling the length and breadth of Italy on what the publisher aptly describes as “a literary quest of unparalleled significance.”

Here is a beautiful paragraph from Roe, speaking of “Shakespeare” in relation to Venice and The Merchant:

“In the latter part of the sixteenth century, the gifted English playwright arrived in the beating heart of this Venetian empire: the legendary city of Venice. He moved about noting its structured society, its centuries-old government of laws, its traditions, its culture, and its disciplines. He carefully considered and investigated its engines of banking and commerce. He explored its harbors and canals, and its streets and squares. He saw the flash of its pageants, its parties and celebrations; and he looked deeply into the Venetian soul. Then, with a skill that has never been equaled, he wrote a story that has a happy ending for all its characters save one, about whom a grief endures and always will: a deathless tragedy.”

If Roe’s description of the dramatist’s activities is at all accurate, how can the authorship continue to be attributed to William of Stratford?

When de Vere traveled through Italy during 1575, he and his retinue skirted Spanish-controlled Milan before navigating by canal and a network of rivers on a 120-mile journey to Verona.  His travels took him to Padua, Venice, Mantua, Pisa, Florence, Siena, Naples, Florence, Messina, Palermo and elsewhere, with his home base in Venice.

Aside from three stage works set in ancient Rome (Corianlanus, Titus Andronicus and Julius Caesar), ten of Shakespeare’s fictional plays are set in whole or in part in Italy: Romeo and Juliet, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, The Taming of the Shrew, The Merchant of Venice, Othello, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, All’s Well That Ends Well (also France), Much Ado About Nothing, The Winter’s Tale and The Tempest (which opens aboard a ship in the Mediterranean between North Africa and Italy).

Only one play of fiction (The Merry Wives of Windsor) is set in England — an astounding ten-to-one ratio!  Why?  The logical answer is that “Shakespeare” (whoever he was) must have fallen in love with Italy.  It would be pretty hard to fall in love with a country without ever visiting it!

Oxfordians believe that de Vere “brought the European Renaissance back to England” when he returned in 1576 after fifteen months of travel through France, Germany and, most extensively, Italy.  He became the quintessential “Italianate Englishman,” wearing “new-fangled” clothes* of the latest styles. He brought richly embroidered, perfumed gloves for Queen Elizabeth, who delighted in them. Such gloves became all the rage among the great ladies of the time; and, for example, he brought back his perfumed leather jerkin (a close-fitting, sleeveless jacket) and “sweet bags” with costly washes and perfumes.

Soon enough John Lyly, who was Oxford’s personal secretary and stage manager, issued two novels about an Italian traveler: Euphues: The Anatomy of Wit (1578) and Euphues and his England (1580), the latter dedicated to de Vere, who apparently supervised the writing of both books.  Together they are said to comprise “the first English novel” and in the following decade “Shakespeare” would demonstrate Lyly’s influence upon his plays.

“There is a secret Italy hidden in the plays of Shakespeare,” Roe begins the introduction to his groundbreaking book.   “It is an ingeniously-described Italy that has neither been recognized, nor even suspected – not in four hundred years – save by a curious few.  It is exact; it is detailed; and it is brilliant.” The descriptions of Italy in the plays are in “challenging detail” and “nearly all their locations” can be found to this day.  Whoever wrote them “had a personal interest in that country equal to the interest in his own.”  The places and things in Italy which Shakespeare alludes to or describes “reveal themselves to be singularly unique to that one country.”  His familiarity with Italy’s sites and sights – “specific details, history, geography, unique cultural aspects, places and things, practices and propensities” and so on – “is, quite simply, astonishing.”

Roe never mentions Oxford; instead he takes us right away to Verona, the setting for Romeo and Juliet, and recounts making one trip to search for … sycamore!  Roe went to find sycamore trees, which would have to be located in one specific spot, “just outside the western wall” as “remnants of a grove that had flourished in that one place for centuries.” The trees are described in the very opening scene –

Where, underneath the grove of sycamore

That westward rooteth from the city’s side…

There are no sycamore trees in any of the known source materials for the play; they were deliberately put in by the great author himself. So Roe, our intrepid detective-explorer, arrives in the old city of Verona: “My driver took me across the city, then to its edge on the Viale Cristoforo Colombo.  Turning south onto the Viale Colonnello Galliano, he began to slow.  This was the boulevard where, long before and rushing to the airport at Milan, I had glimpsed trees, but had no idea what kind.” His car creeps along the Viale and comes to a halt.  Are there sycamores at the very same spot where “Shakespeare” said they were?  Did this playwright, who is said to be ignorant of Italy, know this “unnoted and unimportant but literal truth” about Verona?  Had he deliberately “dropped an odd little stone about a real grove of trees into the pool of his powerful drama”?

Yes, he did!

“No one has ever thought that the English genius who wrote the play could have been telling the truth: that there were such trees, growing exactly where he said in Verona,” writes Roe, whose discoveries all demonstrate Shakespeare’s depth of knowledge and personal experience of Italy. They comprise yet another solid reason to conclude that Oxford was the great poet-dramatist.”

(This post has become no. 45 in 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford. Thanks to editor Alex McNeil for some extra help on this one.)


Re-Posting No. 23 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford: Those “Haggards” that “Fly from Man to Man”

When John Thomas Looney was still searching for the true author in the early 1900s, he opened an anthology of sixteenth-century verse and looked for poems in the stanza form that Shakespeare employed for Venus and Adonis. Looney thought it likely that “Shakespeare,” whoever he was, had previously written poetry in that form, with six lines, each of ten syllables, using the rhyme scheme of a quatrain followed by a couplet [ababcc].

Poems in that form were “much fewer than I had anticipated,” Looney recalled; he found just two that could have come from the same hand that wrote the Shakespearean verse.  One was anonymous; the other was a poem about “Women” by Edward de Vere, with this opening stanza:

If women would be fair and yet not fond, [a]

Or that their love were firm not fickle still, [b]

I would not marvel that they make men bond, [a]

By service long to purchase their good will: [b]

But when I see how frail these creatures are, [c]

I muse that men forget themselves so far.  [c]

Oxford’s verse stood out, conveying “a sense of its harmony with Shakespeare’s work,” in terms of “diction, succinctness, cohesion and unity.”

What then caught Looney’s attention was the earl’s use of “haggard” – a wild or imperfectly trained hawk or falcon — as a metaphor for “fickle” women in the second stanza:

Queen Elizabeth and her attendants out hawking — Her Majesty is riding side-saddle; the man at left has just released his hawk, while above a hawk is bringing down a bird

To mark the choice they make and how they change,

How oft from Phoebus do they cleave to Pan,

Unsettled still like haggards wild they range,

These gentle birds that fly from man to man:

Who would not scorn and shake them from his fist

And let them fly (fair fools) which way they list?

In the several places where Shakespeare uses “haggards” (or the singular form) he almost always employs it as a figure of speech referring to wild, untamed, fickle women.  In Oxford’s poem the word refers to women who “fly from man to man,” a sentiment identical to Shakespeare’s use of the word in Othello:

“If I do prove her haggard, though that her jesses were my dear heart strings, I’d whistle her off and let her down the wind to prey at fortune.”  [3.3.263]

As Ren Draya and Richard F. Whalen report in their edition of Othello from an Oxfordian perspective, the Moor’s speech is “an extended metaphor from falconry, the sport of aristocrats.”

[Haggard = a female hawk captured after getting its adult plumage, hence still wild, untamed; Jesses = leather straps tied to the legs of a hawk and attached to a leash; “Whistle her off … down the wind” = send her off the way a hawk is turned loose when not performing well and sent downwind.]

Further striking parallels in Shakespeare are to be found in the third and final stanza of Oxford’s poem, which refers to the “lure” or decoy bird:

Yet for disport we fawn and flatter both,

To pass the time when nothing else can please,

And train them to our lure with subtle oath,

Till, weary of their wiles, ourselves we ease;

And then we say, when we their fancy try,

To play with fools, O what a fool was I!

A falconer in the sixteenth century

The same idea is expressed in The Taming of the Shrew when Petruchio speaks of himself as a falconer training his wife, Kate, as a falcon who needs to be kept hungry (or less than “fullgorged”), so she’ll continue to follow his lure:

“My falcon now is sharp and passing empty, and till she stoop she must not be full-gorged, for then she never looks upon her lure.  Another way I have to man my haggard, to make her come and know her keeper’s call, that is, to watch her, as we watch these kites that bate and beat and will not be obedient.” [4.1.176]

[Kites = birds of prey, such as the falcon; bate = beat down and weaken a female bird who still won’t obey.]

Just as Oxford writes of men who use a “subtle oath” as a lure or bait to “train” women to their wills, Hero in Much Ado About Nothing speaks of “the false sweet bait that we lay” for Beatrice, of whom she says, “I know her spirits are as coy and wild as haggards of the rock.” [3.1.32-36]

Coming back full-circle, in Venus and Adonis the poet writes of the Goddess of Love and Beauty: “As falcons to the lure, away she flies…” [1027]

“What we have in this instance, as a matter of fact,” Looney writes, “is a complete accordance at all points in the use of an unusual word and figure of speech.  Indeed if we make a piece of patchwork of all the passages in Shakespeare in which the word ‘haggard’ occurs we can reconstruct De Vere’s single poem on ‘Women.’

“Such an agreement not only supports us in seeking to establish the general harmony of De Vere’s work with Shakespeare’s, but carries us beyond the immediate needs of our argument – for it constrains us to claim that either both sets of expression are actually from the same pen, or ‘Shakespeare’ pressed that license to borrow (which was prevalent in his day) far beyond its legitimate limits.  In our days we should not hesitate to describe such passages as glaring plagiarism, unless they happen to come from the same pen.”

Sonnet 91 speaks of hawks, hounds and horses; and if the Sonnets are autobiographical, as they appear to be, then we are hearing the voice of a nobleman spontaneously referring to various aspects of his everyday world:

Some glory in their birth, some in their skill,

Some in their wealth, some in their body’s force,

Some in their garments, though new-fangled ill,

Some in their hawks and hounds, some in their horse…

Prince Hamlet exclaims to the players, “Masters, you are all welcome,” adding spontaneously, “We’ll e’en to’t like French falconers, fly at anything we see!” [2.2]

Juliet calls out: “Hst! Romeo, hist! O for a falconer’s voice to lure this tassel-gentle back again!” [2.2]

A falcon swooping down…

A terrifying stanza in The Rape of Lucrece portrays the rapist Tarquin as a falcon circling above his helpless prey:

This said, he shakes aloft his Roman blade,

Which, like a falcon towering in the skies,

Coucheth the  fowl below with his wings’ shade,

Whose crooked beak threats if he mount he dies;

So under his insulting falchion lies

Harmless Lucretia, marking what he tells

With trembling fear, as fowl hear falcons’ bells. [505-511]

(Coucheth the fowl = causing the bird to hug the ground; Falchion = sword; marking = listening to; Falcons’ bells = bells were attached to the hawks or falcons.)

Oxford was an expert falconer; so, too, was the author known as Shakespeare.

This post is now number 23 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford (2016), edited by Alex McNeil (with other editorial help by Brian Bechtold)

Re-posting No. 22 of 100 Reasons Why Shake-speare was Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford: His Geneva Bible

Ecclesiasticus 28.1-5, as marked by Edward de Vere in his Geneva Bible

A great irony of the authorship movement is that Henry Clay Folger, founder of the Folger Shakespeare Library, was very likely an Oxfordian sympathizer. He took such keen interest in J. T. Looney’s 1920 identification of Oxford that, in 1925, he bought the Geneva Bible that the earl himself had purchased three and a half centuries earlier in 1570.

Henry Clay Folger (1857 – 1930)

De Vere’s copy was quietly ensconced in the Library when it opened in 1932, two years after Folger’s death.  There it remained, unheralded, until 1992, when two Oxfordian researchers, Dr. Paul Nelson and Isabel Holden, learned it was being guarded by folks with powerful reasons to keep its contents under wraps. Those contents were explosive: more than a thousand marked and/or underlined verses, apparently in Oxford’s own hand, with plenty of links to the Shakespeare works.

Enter Roger Stritmatter, who would pore over the handwritten annotations in Oxford’s bible (often in partnership with Mark Anderson) for the next eight years, eventually earning his Ph.D. in Comparative Literature at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

Dr. Stritmatter’s 2000 dissertation, The Marginalia of Edward de Vere’s Geneva Bible, stands as both a remarkable achievement in scholarship and a landmark event in the history of Shakespearean authorship studies. It is also a powerful demonstration of insights and connections that become possible when the correct biography of “Shakespeare” is brought into alignment with historical documents.

Dr. Roger Stritmatter’s Dissertation on Oxford’s Geneva Bible: a Landmark in Oxford-Shakespeare Scholarship

When de Vere obtained his Geneva Bible he was still a ward of Queen Elizabeth in William Cecil’s custody.  In his documentary life of Oxford in 1928, B.M. Ward reports finding an account book with “Payments made by John Hart, Chester Herald, on behalf of the Earl of Oxford” during 1570, with entries such as:  “To William Seres, stationer, for a Geneva Bible gilt, a Chaucer, Plutarch’s works in French, with other books and papers – … Tully’s and Plato’s works in folio, with other books …”  

“The first edition of that bible was published in 1560 in Geneva,” Stritmatter reports. “Due to its incendiary implied criticisms of Catholicism, it remained a popular unauthorized translation throughout the reign of Elizabeth I … Over a hundred years of scholarship has made it clear that the Geneva Bible was the translation most familiar to Shakespeare.”

Among the approximately 1,043 underlined or marked verses in Oxford’s bible, 147 are cited by previous scholars as having influenced Shakespeare.  Twenty marked verses contain language “at least as close” to other language already identified as Shakespearean influences – and so on, not to mention cases where Stritmatter found connections to the works of Shakespeare that previously had gone unnoticed.  The earl’s copy also contains some thirty-two short notes that have been verified through independent forensic paleography to be in his handwriting. Many themes reflected in the marked passages “can be traced directly to known biographical facts of Oxford’s life,” Stritmatter writes, confirming that “not only was Oxford the original owner of the book,” which had his de Vere crest on the cover, “but it was he who made the annotations.”

Stritmatter began to perceive a series of “patterned relations” narrating a “spiritual story,” one that we can begin to see once de Vere is perceived as Shakespeare. It is a story about “secret works” by an annotator whose name is removed from the historical record but who, nonetheless, re-emerges as the man who gave the world the greatest works of the English language. For example, Oxford marked and partially underlined Micha 9.7:

“I will bear the wrath of the Lord, because I have sinned against him, until he plead my cause and execute judgment for me; then will bring me forth to the light…”

“Shakespeare” wrote in Lucrece:

Time’s glory is to calm contending Kings,

To unmask falsehood, and bring truth to light

And Oxford wrote under his own name to Robert Cecil in 1602:

“Now time, and truth, have unmasked all difficulties.”


In 1929 Esther Singleton published Shakespearian Fantasias: Adventures in the Fourth Dimension, with stories based on characters in Shakespeare’s comedies. Having apparently read Shakespeare Identified by Looney, she introduced Oxford as Berowne of Love’s Labour’s Lost, Jacques of As You Like It and Benedick of Much Ado About Nothing.  Folger found these tales so delightful that he bought at least twenty copies of the book to give to friends; just before he died, he also negotiated with Singleton to buy her original manuscript. Singleton died only two weeks later, but her heirs eventually presented the manuscript to the Folger Library in her memory. Folger’s interest in the possibility of Oxford’s authorship was kept secret for decades.

(This reason has become no. 19 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford, edited by Alex McNeil.)


Re-Posting No. 21 of 100 Reasons Why Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford: “Suspicion and Jealousy”

When first learning about Edward de Vere and his relationship to “Shakespeare,” I was startled to see a letter written by his wife Anne Cecil in December 1581.  Oxford had flown into a rage in 1576 over court gossip that he was not the father of the baby girl (Elizabeth Vere) to whom she had given birth the previous year, when he was in Italy.  Besieged by doubts, and furious that the scandal had become “the fable of the world,” as he wrote angrily to Ann’s father Lord Burghley, he separated from her and refused to acknowledge the child.

Othello and Desdemona

Now, five years later, husband and wife had begun to communicate again, and Anne wrote to him from the Westminster home of her father, pleading:

“My Lord – In what misery I may account myself to be, that neither can see any end thereof nor yet any hope to diminish it – and now of late having had some hope in my own conceit that your Lordship would have renewed some part of your favor that you began to show me this summer…”

What did this remind me of?  Where had I heard this before? She continued:

“Now after long silence of hearing anything from you, at the length I am informed – but how truly I know not, and yet how uncomfortably I do not seek it – that your Lordship is entered into misliking of me without any cause in deed or thought.”

The first quarto of “Othello” – 1622, one year before the First Folio of plays appeared

Of course: Desdemona, the suffering wife of Othello. Anne’s letter continues:

“And therefore, my good Lord, I beseech you in the name of God, which knoweth all my thoughts and love towards you, let me know the truth of your meaning towards me, upon what cause you are moved to continue me in this misery, and what you would have me do in my power to recover your constant favor, so as your Lordship may not be led still to detain me in calamity without some probable cause, whereof, I appeal to God, I am utterly innocent.”

I had played the part of Cassio in college, but now the final scenes came back to me with sudden vividness: the way Desdemona was so baffled by Othello’s suspicions and accusations; how she begged him to reveal the torturous contents of his mind; how she was so helpless in the face of his blind rage; how she was left to merely plead her innocence, plaintively telling Iago, the very manipulator who had roused Othello’s jealousy in the first place:

“O good Iago, what shall I do to win my lord again?  Good friend, go to him; for, by this light of heaven, I know not how I lost him.  Here I kneel: If e’er my will did trespass ‘gainst his love either in discourse of thought or actual deed … comfort forswear me!  Unkindness may do much, and his unkindness may defeat my life, but never taint my love.” (4.2)

Yes, I thought, Anne could have been saying the same words. If Oxford was Shakespeare, I mused, then Anne’s statement “I am utterly innocent” from the depths of her heart echoes in the play when, after Othello strangles Desdemona to death, Iago’s wife Emilia shouts at him: “Nay, lay thee down and roar, for thou hast killed the sweetest innocent that e’er did lift up eye!”  When Iago stabs Emilia, she cries to  Othello again before dying: “Moor, she was chaste!  She loved thee, cruel Moor!” (5.2)

Suspicion and jealousy run through other Shakespearean plays such as Much Ado About Nothing and The Winter’s Tale.  Hamlet turns on his fiancé Ophelia, distrusting her and complaining that “the power of beauty will sooner transform honesty from what it is to a bawd than the force of honesty can translate beauty into his likeness.”  The prince is coming unglued, with young Ophelia crying out, “O what a noble mind is here o’erthrown!” (3.1) Anne wrote to her husband again in December 1581:

“Good my Lord, assure yourself it is you whom only I love and fear, and so am desirous above all the world to please you…”

She died less than seven years later, at thirty-one, having suffered emotional strains we can only imagine.  Oxford had had his complaints about Anne siding too much with her father, much as Hamlet reacts to Ophelia’s spying on him for her father, but he may well have blamed himself for his wife’s early death.  Once the earl is understood as the author, he may be seen drawing upon these upheavals in his own life, including his remorse, for portrayals of Desdemona’s plight and, too, Ophelia’s madness and apparent suicide. When Hamlet sees her brother Laertes leap into her grave, he holds nothing back: 

“What is he whose grief bears such an emphasis?  Whose phrase of sorrow conjures the wand’ring stars and makes them stand like wonder-wounded hearers?  This is I, Hamlet the Dane!”  [He leaps into the grave with Laertes; after they nearly fight] “I loved Ophelia!  Forty thousand brothers could not, with all their quantity of love, make up my sum!” (5.1)

Ophelia as played by Helena Bonham-Carter in the Franco Zeffirelli film of “Hamlet” in 1990

The prince’s grief, anger, rage and guilt are all palpable as he challenges Laertes:

“What wilt thou do for her? … Woo’t weep?  Woo’t fight?  Woo’t fast?  Woo’t tear thyself?  Woo’t drink up eisell?  Eat a crocodile?  I’ll do’t!  Dost thou come here to whine?  To outface me with leaping in her grave? … Nay … I’ll rant as well as thou!” (5.1)

During the final scene of Othello, I never failed to experience a wave of gutwrenching emotion as the Moor begs for any crumbs of sympathy or empathy before taking his own life: “Soft you; a word or two before you go.  I have done the state some service, and they know’t – no more of that…” (5.2)

We might well hear Oxford speaking of his own service to the state — as a playwright and patron of writers and acting companies performing around the countryside, rousing national unity against the coming Spanish invasion, which England survived in the summer of 1588, just a few months after Anne’s death. The power of the stage was apparent when young men of widely different dialects, religious views and social status came to London to join in common defense of their country. Othello continues:

“I pray you, in your letters, when you shall these unlucky deeds relate, speak of me as I am, nothing extenuate, nor set down aught in malice.  Then must you speak of one that loved not wisely but too well; of one not easily jealous but, being wrought, perplexed in the extreme; of one whose hand, like the base Indian, threw a pearl away richer than all his tribe; of one whose subdued eyes, albeit unused to the melting mood, drop tears as fast as the Arabian trees their medicinable gum…” (5.2)

I believe we are listening to Oxford’s own grief over the wreckages of his past – another reason to believe he wrote Othello, which was printed for the first time in 1622, a year before publication of the First Folio of thirty-six plays.

(This post is now No. 74 in 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford.)


Sonnets 107 to 125: Southampton’s Liberation on April 10, 1603 to Elizabeth’s Funeral on April 28: Nineteen Sonnets = Nineteen Days

And thou in this shalt find thy monument,

When tyrants’ crests and tombs of brass are spent. (Sonnet 107)

“The particular sonnet [107] which, according to Sir Sidney Lee and other authorities, welcomed Southampton’s liberation from prison in 1603 [April 10], is one of the last of the series … and makes references to events that took place in 1603 – to Queen Elizabeth’s death and the accession of James I.” — J.T. Looney, “‘Shakespeare’ Identified”, 1920, p. 430 [page 365 in the edition by Ruth Loyd Miller]

“In another connection we have had to point out that Shakespeare’s sonnet 125 seems to be pointing to De Vere’s officiating at Queen Elizabeth’s funeral [April 28, 1603]. This may be taken as his last sonnet; for 126 is really … a parting message to his young friend.” – Looney, pp. 395-96 [page 335 in Miller’s edition]

Looney agreed 107 marks Southampton’s liberation on April 10.

He believed that 125 marks Queen Elizabeth’s funeral on April 28.

The nineteen sonnets from 107 to 125 cover one-for-one the nineteen days from April 10 to April 28.

Is this a coincidence? Or is it deliberate?

Sonnet 126, the envoy*, completes the sequence of twenty.

These follow the eighty from 27 to 106 (Southampton’s time in the Tower).

Eighty plus twenty = One Hundred or a Century.

* Sonnets 26 and 126 are both envoys, creating the 100-sonnet center.

1——-26 27——————————–126 127————152

  (26)                         (100)                             (26)

Re-posting Part Two of Reason 20 Why Shake-spreare was Oxford: The Depth of the Dedications to the Earl

The public dedications to Edward de Vere indicate the scope of his personal relationships with other writers.  The person who eventually created the “Shakespeare” works did not develop in a vacuum; on the contrary, he had to be part of a community of fellow authors, poets and playwrights. Oxford was not only part of such a community; the tributes make clear he was their leader.

"The Histories of Trogus Pompeius" by Golding, dedicated to 14-year-old Edward de Vere in 1564

(Click on Image to Enlarge)

Arthur Golding (Histories of Trogus Pompeius) wrote to him in 1564: “It is not unknown to others, and I have had experiences thereof myself, how earnest a desire your Honor hath naturally grafted in you to read, peruse, and communicate with others as well the histories of ancient times, and things done long ago, as also of the present estate of things in our days, and that not without a certain pregnancy of wit and ripeness of understanding.”

Thomas Underdowne (AEthiopian History) told him in 1569 that “matters of learning” were good for a nobleman, but then warned the earl that “to be too much addicted that way, I think it is not good.”

In that same year the 19-year-old Oxford ordered “a Geneva Bible gilt, a Chaucer, Plutarch’s works in French, with other books and papers” as well as “Tully’s and Plato’s works in folio, with other books.”  Sounds indeed like a young man “addicted” to learning!

When Thomas Bedingfield dedicated his translation of Cardanus’ Comforte to Oxford in 1573, he told him that “I do present the book your Lordship so long desired,” confirming that the Earl had been personally involved in this publication, to which he contributed both a Letter to the Reader and a poem.   He reminds Oxford of “the encouragement of your Lordship, who (as you well remember), unawares to me, found some part of this work and willed me in any wise to proceed therein.”

Elizabeth & Courtiers

The distinguished physician Thomas Twyne (Breviary of Britain) referred to him in 1573 as being “in your flower and tender age” before inviting him to bestow  upon his work “such regard as you are accustomed to do on books of Geography, Histories, and other good learning, wherein I am privy your honour taketh singular delight.”

When Anthony Munday (Mirror of Mutability), told Oxford in 1579 that he looked forward to “the day when as conquerors we may peacefully resume our delightful literary discussions,” he was apparently referring to the rivalry between the Euphuists under Oxford and the Romanticists, who included Philip Sidney and Gabriel Harvey.  His reference to “our delightful literary discussions” offers a glimpse of Oxford personally engaged with other writers who were developing a new English literature and drama leading to “Shakespeare.” The works created by members of this circle would become known as “contemporary sources” upon which the great author drew.

Thomas Watson (Hekatompathia, or The Passionate Century of Love) reminded Oxford in 1580 that he had “willingly vouchsafed the acceptance of this work, and at convenient leisures favorably perused it, being as yet but in written hand.”  He cited de Vere as a literary trendsetter whose approval would draw many readers; because of this influence, the earl’s acceptance of the work in manuscript meant that “many have oftentimes and earnestly called upon me to put it to the press.”

Angel Day (The English Secretary) wrote to him in 1586 to Oxford about “the learned view and insight of your Lordship, whose infancy from the beginning was ever sacred to the Muses.”

Robert Greene (Card of Fancy) wrote publicly to Oxford in 1584 that he was “a worthy  favorer and fosterer of learning [who] hath forced many through your excellent virtue to offer the first-fruits of their study at the shrine of your Lordship’s courtesy.”

Dedication of “Defense of the Military Profession” by Gates to Oxford, 1579 (Click on Image to Enlarge)

In 1591 the composer John Farmer, who apparently lived in Oxford’s household, dedicated his first songbook (Plain-Song) to the earl, saying he was “emboldened” because of “your Lordship’s great affection to this noble science” (music) – which, of course, must be said also of Shakespeare.  In his second dedication (First Set of English Madrigals, 1599), Farmer told Oxford that “using this science as a recreation, your Lordship have over-gone most of them that make it a profession.”

In other words, Oxford encouraged young writers with their very first works, guiding them to the press.

Unlike the majority of dedications to patrons, the comments to Oxford are genuine and heartfelt. The earl may have had many faults of character, such as a tendency to be jealous and vengeful (as a number of Shakespearean characters are), but among his fellow writers and other artists he was uniquely spirited and generous.

In his Oxford biography Monstrous Adversary (2003), the Stratfordian scholar Alan Nelson concedes that Edward de Vere “attracts the attention of theologians, poets, distillers, and a musician, who have translated works from the Continent, or composed original works in English.” Citing the Index of dedications prior to 1641 by Franklin B. Williams (1962), he notes that only Queen Elizabeth and a few more powerful nobles had more dedications: Leicester (114); Burghley (85); Walsingham (47); and Charles Howard, the Admiral and hero of England’s victory over the Spanish Armada (46).

“CARDANUS Comforte, translated And Published by commaundement of the right Honourable the Earle of Oxenforde.” (1576 edition; click on image to enlarge)

In her Master of Arts in English thesis of 1999 at the University of Texas, focusing on Oxford’s patronage, Jonni Koonce Dunn notes that nearly forty percent of it was “expended on fiction with an Italian flavor.” The result, she adds, is that the Earl “provided the late sixteenth century with a body of source works to which the literature of the English Renaissance is sorely indebted.” Even from a young age, he preferred “literary work over the devotional or practical,” and such works “lent themselves to being models for adaptation for the forerunners of the novel as well as being instrumental in the development of English drama.”

His introduction as a young man to works such as The Courtier and Cardanus’ Comforte, she adds, “suggests his desire to be instrumental in shaping what was read by the university student and the courtier, thus in a roundabout way to transform the Elizabethan court into the cultured society depicted at Urbino in Castiglione’s work … It would eventually come to pass that William Shakespeare would benefit from the works de Vere patronized, for his plays came to make use of practically every one of the literary number in some fashion.” Without such patronage, many of the sources used by Shakespeare “might not have been available to him for inspiration,” and therefore this critical contribution “should ensure Edward de Vere the gratitude of every student of literature.”

[This post is now No. 38 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford (2016)]

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