Re-Posting No. 8 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford: Gabriel Harvey’s Address to the Court

In July of 1578. the Cambridge scholar Gabriel Harvey composed a Latin address to the Court during Queen Elizabeth’s visit to the university. Within the printed address to Edward de Vere, which he may or may not have delivered orally, was a statement translated by B.M. Ward in 1928 as “Thy countenance shakes a spear!”  

(Defenders of the Stratfordian faith might want to counter with a less “Shakespearean”-sounding translation, such as: “Your facial expression brandishes a long wooden shaft with a sharp-pointed head!”)

A Representation of Gabriel Harvey (left) and his literary “enemy” Thomas Nashe

Oxford had met Harvey a decade or so earlier.  The earl had been “in the prime of his gallantest youth” when he had “bestowed Angels [funds] upon me in Christ’s College in Cambridge,” Harvey recalled in writing, “and otherwise vouchsafed me many gracious favors.”

“It is evident that a genuine friendship between the Earl and Harvey sprang up as a result of their early acquaintance,” Ward writes, “and it is equally evident that literature must have been the common ground on which they met. “

Gabriel Harvey was quite a character.  His role is complicated, but I suggest he’s a key to the whole Oxford-Shakespeare story. I think Harvey understood from the get-go that de Vere was a literary genius; that from those early Cambridge days onward, he was obsessed with Oxford; and that, when “Shakespeare” appeared on the dedication of Venus and Adonis to the Earl of Southampton in 1593, he knew very well it was Oxford using a pen name.  I believe the two men (who were about the same age) worked together behind the scenes, in ways that have yet to become clear…

Harvey’s address was printed in “Gratulationis Valdinensis Liber Quartus” (The Fourth Book of Walden Rejoicing) in September 1578

Elizabeth was accompanied at Audley End by the whole Court including Oxford as Lord Great Chamberlain, William Cecil Lord Burghley, Robert Dudley Earl of Leicester, Sir Christopher Hatton and Sir Philip Sidney.  Harvey delivered a Latin speech to each of these courtiers, but his address to Oxford was startling when, for example, he urged him to “throw away the insignificant pen” and honor his noble heritage by becoming a military leader in preparations for the inevitable war against Spain  (which became official in 1584).

“O great-hearted one, strong in thy mind and thy fiery will, thou wilt conquer thyself, thou wilt conquer others; thy glory will spread out in all directions beyond the Arctic Ocean; and England will put thee to the test and prove thee to be a native-born Achilles.

“Do thou but go forward boldly and without hesitation: Mars will obey thee, Hermes will be thy messenger, Pallas striking her shield with her spear shaft will attend thee, thine own breast and courageous heart will instruct thee.

“For a long time past Phoebus Apollo has cultivated thy mind in the arts!

“English poetical measures have been sung by thee long enough!

“Let that Courtly Epistle – more polished even than the writings of Castiglione himself – witness how greatly thou dost excel in letters. *

“I have seen many Latin verses of thine, yea, even more English verses are extant; thou hast drunk deep draughts not only of the Muses of France and Italy, but has learned the manners of many men, and the arts of foreign countries.


“It was not for nothing that Sturmius himself was visited by thee; neither in France, Italy, nor Germany are any such cultivated and polished men.

“O thou hero worthy of renown, throw away the insignificant pen, throw away the bloodless books, and writings that serve no useful purpose; now must the sword be brought into play, now is the time for thee to sharpen the spear and to handle great engines of war…

“In thy breast is noble blood, Courage animates thy brow, Mars lives in thy tongue, Minerva strengthens thy right hand, Bellona reigns in thy body, within thee burns the fire of Mars.

“Thine eyes flash fire, thy countenance shakes a spear; who would not swear that Achilles had come to life again?” **

Ward observed that Harvey was revealing the indisputable fact that de Vere “was well known to have written a great number of poems both in Latin and English, the majority in the latter tongue.”  The amount of his known poetry by then, however, “is quite incompatible with Harvey’s description of the Earl’s poetical output.  It is therefore evident that he must have been privileged to read Oxford’s poems in manuscript – a privilege that must also have been extended to others in the Court, because Harvey makes no secret of their existence in his open address. These facts are important and confirm what we are told by other and no less credible witnesses than Harvey that Lord Oxford stood supreme among his contemporary poets and dramatists.”

[Here’s a thought, which I insert here in this current post: If what Ward suggests is the case, that members of the Court already knew his large output of poetry by this time, many having read the verses, is there any doubt that Court members in 1593 knew very well that “Shakespeare” was none other than Oxford? My view is that the “authorship” of Shakespearean works was no “question” for the Queen, Burghley and others at the royal court, from the moment Venus and Adonis was published in that year.)

Achilles, Greek hero of the Trojan War

If we had put forth the hypothesis that the author was Edward de Vere using a pen name, imagine then coming upon this public address to him back in 1578 and ask: Given that we are talking about the greatest writer of the English language, isn’t Harvey’s description of Oxford exactly what we should expect to find?

  • Harvey is referring to Oxford’s elegant preface “To the Reader” of Bartholomew Clerke’s translation of The Courtier from Italian to Latin in 1571.

**   Check out Professor Michael Delahoyde’s comparison of Harvey’s description of Oxford as Achilles to this passage in Lucrece (1594) by “Shakespeare”:

For much imaginary work was there,

Conceit deceitful, so compact, so kind,

That for Achilles’ image stood his spear,

Grip’d in an armed hand, himself behind

Was left unseen, save to the eye of mind…

[Note: This post is the basis for No. 27 in 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford ]

Discovery of a 1595 Reference to “Sweet Shakspeare … Oxford … Our De Vere … A Secret” — No. 80 of 100 Reasons to Conclude that Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford was “Shakespeare”

“Most contemporaries alluded to Shakespeare’s famous lines or characters – they did not usually mention his name or give personal information. Even praise for the great author was often indirect, implying that there was something secret about him.” – Katherine Chiljan, “Shakespeare Suppressed”

scan of Polimanteia
(Click on Image for Larger View)

These “reasons” to conclude that Edward de Vere, seventeenth Earl of Oxford wrote the Shakespeare works have generally avoided anagrams and the like, but for Reason No. 80 we make an exception. In my view, what we have here – based on common sense, requiring no formal training to recognize it – is a veritable knockout punch.

In 1595, two years after “Shakespeare” initially appeared — on the dedication of Venus and Adonis to Henry Wriothesley, third Earl of Southampton — and one year after the name appeared on the dedication of Lucrece to that young nobleman, the University of Cambridge published a book containing one of the first mentions of the new poet.

A page of this book contained an italicized margin note Lucrecia Sweet Shak-speare” alongside two lines of text, one containing the italicized word “Oxford” and the line below containing a perfect anagram of OUR DE VERE — A SECRET.

To be more precise, directly underneath Oxford was printed the odd hyphenated phrase “court-deare-verse,” with letters and words which, in correct sequence, spelled out OUR DE VERE. [c-OUR-t-e-DE-e-a-r-e VERsE.] Moreover, the remaining seven letters (c-t-e-a-r-e-s) formed a perfect anagram of A SECRET.

scan of Polimanteia
(Click on Image for Larger View)

The book was Polimanteia. The publication in 1595 was anonymous, but later evidence showed it was written by William Covell, a clergyman who received his MA from Cambridge in 1588 and went on to serve as a Fellow of Queen’s College, Cambridge, from 1589 to 1599.

Discoverer of this rather amazing Oxford=Shakespeare reference, which had been hiding in plain sight for more than four centuries, is Alexander Waugh, the English writer who is also a critic, journalist, composer, cartoonist, record producer, television producer and outspoken critic of the traditional Stratfordian biography.

Alexander Waugh

Alexander Waugh

The grandson of novelist Evelyn Waugh, he recently co-edited (with John M. Shahan) — and contributed to — the book of essays entitled Shakespeare Beyond Doubt?, Exposing an Industry in Denial, published in response to the orthodox position of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

The complete marginal note reads: “All praise/ worthy./ Lucrecia/ Sweet Shak-/ speare./ Eloquent Gaveston./ Wanton Adonis./ Watsons heyre (heir).”

(“The spelling ‘Shakspeare’ – missing the medial ‘e’ – is here forced by lack of space,” Waugh points out. Adding an ‘e’ after the ‘k’ would make it collide with the main text. “No other significance should be attached to this spelling.”)

"Venus and Adonis" Dedication - 1593

“Venus and Adonis” Dedication – 1593

The note’s references to “Lucrecia” and “Adonis” obviously refer to Shakespeare’s two narrative poems. Given that the overall topic covers poets and poetry, “Gaveston” most likely refers to Michael Drayton’s historical poem The Legend of Piers Gaveston, published in 1593; and “Watson” refers to the poet Thomas Watson, who had dedicated Hekatompathia, or the Passionate Century of Love (1582), a sequence of 100 consecutively numbered verses, to his patron Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford, who had viewed them in manuscript and apparently had been involved with their actual writing.

Covell, well aware that “Shakespeare” was Oxford’s new pen name and that this was a highly sensitive state secret, was careful to avoid pointing directly to the earl. On the other hand, he was equally careful to place the margin words “Lucrecia Sweet Shakspeare” right next to the lines containing “Oxford” and “courte-deare-verse” — and, therefore, the crucial aspect of his indirect message was the combination of both the margin note and the text; to get Covell’s barely hidden meaning, the reader must view them in conjunction with each other.

"Lucrece" Dedication 1594

“Lucrece” Dedication

“The main text of Polimanteia is supported by a great many marginal notes,” Waugh writes in the De Vere Society Newsletter, “all of which have been precisely and meticulously placed by the printer so that there can be no doubt as to which line each is intended to reference.” With that observation in mind, he declares, “Given that only a handful of direct allusions to Shakespeare are known to exist from the 1590s, and given that the world has been turned upside-down in search of any information relating to the Bard, I find it very strange that no Shakespearean scholar has yet seen fit to investigate the meaning of this little note in relation to the text to which it is supposed to refer.” (My emphasis)

Henry Wriothesley Earl of Southampton

Henry Wriothesley
Earl of Southampton

There is a definite political dimension to this story, however, and it involves Oxford’s support via “Shakespeare” to the Earl of Southampton, to whom he wrote in the Lucrece dedication: “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.” During these years, roughly 1592-1594, there had been an open effort to raise Southampton in the public eye and even to suggest he was a prince who deserved to succeed Elizabeth I on the throne.

But the young earl had refused a political marriage to Elizabeth Vere, granddaughter of William Cecil Lord Burghley (and the reputed daughter of Oxford, who had denied his paternity), preferring instead to join Robert Devereux, second Earl of Essex in breaking away from Burghley and his son Robert Cecil. And now William Covell was dedicating Polimanteia to Essex, pledging his “deep affection” as well as his “kindnesse and love” in the process of devoting “the full interest of my self to your dispose.”

William Cecil Lord Burghley and his son Robert Cecil

William Cecil Lord Burghley and his son Robert Cecil

Edward de Vere, Robert Devereux and Henry Wriothesley had all three been royal wards of the Queen in Burghley’s household; all three had been Cambridge men, as was Covell, who appears to have used Polimanteia to publicly (though indirectly) declare his support for the “Essex faction” in the power struggle to control the succession upon Elizabeth’s death.

This growing political battle would result just six years later in the Essex faction’s use of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men (known to us as “Shakespeare’s Company”) to perform Richard II at the Globe (showing the deposition of a monarch) on the eve of the so-called Essex rebellion of 8 February 1601, aimed at removing Robert Cecil. It ended in utter failure, followed by the execution of Essex and the confinement of Southampton in the Tower until after Elizabeth’s death in 1603 and Cecil’s engineering of the succession of King James.

Going back to 1595, however, Alexander Waugh raises the question of how to explain the “brazen temerity” of William Covell in publishing with Cambridge at a time when Lord Burghley himself was Chancellor of the University. That fact, plus the dedication to Essex, leads to a “natural supposition,” he writes, “that the release of Covell’s secret [about Oxford as Shakespeare] was in some way sanctioned by Essex and/or Burghley.”

While the proposed alliance of Southampton and the Cecil family through marriage was in play, during 1590-1594, Burghley would have been in favor of Oxford’s attempt to persuade the younger earl to go along (in Venus and Adonis the Goddess of Love has thirty-six lines urging the young god to hurry into marriage and fatherhood, using virtually the same words as in the first seventeen sonnets to Southampton urging procreation). Even the Archbishop of Canterbury (who took his orders from Burghley and/or the Queen) had signed off on Venus and Adonis, that first published offering with “Shakespeare” attached to it.

Southampton in Tower 1601 - 1603

Southampton in Tower
1601 – 1603

By 1595, however, the potential Oxford-Elizabeth-Burghley alliance with Southampton had ended, so that now Oxford was breaking with William and Robert Cecil while using “Shakespeare” to support Southampton alone. And in doing so, he was inevitably joining the Essex faction — even against his better judgment. It appears to me, therefore, that Covell in 1595 must have been quite daring to insert his allusion to the Earl of Oxford as “Shakespeare,” with its implied support of Essex and Southampton against the entrenched Cecil faction.

Yes, quite daring, in a world where writers were being censored, imprisoned, tortured, killed.

At stake, after all, was the crown.

Did Young Oxford Witness an Event That Became the Turning Point of “Hamlet”? Reason Number 17…

When Edward de Vere the seventeenth Earl of Oxford was barely into his teens, he witnessed a real-life event that was virtually the same as the one “Shakespeare” would create many years later for the dramatic turning point of Hamlet when the Prince puts on a play to “catch the conscience of the King.”

Oxford was 14 on Queen Elizabeth's royal progress to Cambridge in 1564, the year she had hired a coach builder from the Netherlands (Gullian Boonen) who introduced the "spring suspension" to England

Fourteen-year-old Oxford was on the 1564 royal summer progress when Queen Elizabeth paid her historic visit to Cambridge University for five thrilling days and nights.

Chancellor William Cecil (later Lord Burghley) was in charge while his arch political enemy, High Steward Robert Dudley (later the Earl of Leicester) acted as master of ceremonies; but then a single, unplanned event could not have failed to make a lasting impression on young Edward.

Hamlet puts on a play to "catch the conscience of the King."

Elizabeth was set to leave on Thursday, August 10, 1564 for a 10-mile ride to the home of Sir Henry Cromwell at Hinchingbrooke, where she was to spend the night; and her Majesty was eager to get going.

Although young Oxford was a university student (upon whom the queen bestowed an honorary degree during her visit), he was on the progress with her and surely witnessed what happened next.

Hinchinbrooke House, where Elizabeth I of England stayed the night after the Cambridge visit in August 1564

According to Guzman de Silva, the Spanish ambassador, Elizabeth made a speech praising all the plays or “comedies” and disputations, but some of the anti-Catholic students “wished to give her another representation, which she refused in order to be no longer delayed.” 

But the students were so anxious for her to hear their play that they “followed her [to Hinchingbrooke] and so importuned her that at last she consented.”

So that evening, in a courtyard, an exhausted Queen of England gathered with members of her Court by torchlight for the student production.  It turned out to be a distasteful burlesque intended to mock certain Catholic leaders who had been imprisoned in the Tower.

The university atmosphere had become charged with the rapidly developing Protestant radicalism known as the Puritan movement, but the queen and Cecil were ending hostilities with France while trying to maintain good relations with Catholic Spain, so Elizabeth was in no mood for anti-Papal displays that de Silva would surely report back to King Philip, which, in fact, he did:

“The actors came in dressed as some of the imprisoned bishops.  First came the Bishop of London carrying a lamb in his hands as if he were eating it as he walked along, and then others with devices, one being in the figure of a dog with the Host in his mouth … The Queen was so angry that she at once entered her chamber, using strong language; and the men who held the torches, it being night, left them in the dark…”

Queen Elizabeth I attends a play at one of her palaces

Imagine how this scene must have struck young Oxford!  Here was vivid proof that a dramatic representation could directly alter the emotions of the monarch.  Here was spontaneous evidence of the power of a play to affect Elizabeth’s attitude and perhaps even her decisions.

Did the mature dramatist “Shakespeare” later recall this event when he came to write the “Mousetrap” scene of Hamlet, setting it at night with the King’s guards carrying torches?  When the Queen rose in anger at the students and rushed off, did chief minister Cecil call to stop the burlesque, as chief minister Polonius would do in “Hamlet”?  Did Elizabeth call for light as Claudius does in the play?

Her Majesty swept away using “strong language” as the torchbearers followed, leaving all “in the dark,” and the author of Hamlet would write:

Ophelia: The King rises.

Hamlet: What, frighted with false fire?

Gertrude (to King Claudius): How fares my lord?

Polonius: Give o’er the play!

King: Give me some light!  Away!

All: Lights, lights, lights!

Young Oxford was already a well-tutored scholar whose Renaissance outlook had drawn him to literature and history among a myriad of fields; and Elizabeth, 31, had displayed her own Renaissance spirit and love for learning when she and her retinue had entered Cambridge that summer.

Interior of King's College Chapel, where plays were performed for the Queen in 1564

The Chapel of King’s College had been transformed into a “great stage” and she had spent three of the five nights feasting on “comedies and tragedies.”

The King's College Chapel of Cambridge University

Now, after traveling with the Queen and her Court to Hinchingbrooke, the fourteen-year-old nobleman whose earldom motto was “Nothing Truer than Truth” had witnessed the power of a theatrical performance to stir his sovereign to rage.

Was this the young “Shakespeare,” already storing away the experience and looking ahead to the days at the royal court, when he would “catch the conscience” of his Queen?

I think it was!

Some of the Sources:

University Drama in the Tudor Age by Frederick Boas, 1914

The Progresses and Public Processions of Queen Elizabeth by John Nichols, 1823

Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, the mousetrap scene, Act 3, scene 3

The Education of Young Shakespeare by Hank Whittemore, spring 2002 edition of Shakespeare Matters, the newsletter of the Shakespeare Fellowship

%d bloggers like this: