The Duke of Alencon Appears in “Shakespeare” once the Author is Edward de Vere – Reason No. 70 Why Oxford wrote the Works

In the traditional biographies of William Shakespeare, you will find no hint that Francois de Valois, Duke of Alencon may be depicted in any of the Shakespeare plays* – mainly because his courtship of Queen Elizabeth had ended by 1582, when William of Stratford was just eighteen.  On the other hand, Edward de Vere the seventeenth Earl of Oxford was then thirty-two, having lived at the center of the political storm of the French Match during the previous decade; and with Oxford in mind as the author, a curtain is lifted and Alencon may be seen in several Shakespearean plays, starting with Cymbeline, King of Britaine.

* If any reader finds such a hint in Stratfordian biography, please let us know.

Francois, Duke of Alencon

Francois, Duke of Alencon

Elizabeth was on royal progress in the summer of 1578 when the French envoys arrived to begin negotiations for her marriage to Alencon, youngest son of Catherine de Medici, the most powerful woman in Europe.   The Queen received the French diplomats at Long Melford, where she sent for her highly favored courtier Edward de Vere, the Seventeenth Earl of Oxford, who was then twenty-eight, to perform a dancing exhibition for the delegation.  Shockingly, however, Oxford refused to obey his sovereign – not once, but twice. Catherine de Medici of Florence had married Henry II of France in 1547 at age fourteen.  She became a political force upon his death in 1559, as the mother of three successive kings: Francis II, who died in 1560; Charles IX, who died in 1574; and Henry III, then twenty-three.  Catherine had been the regent in charge for young Charles when persecutions of Huguenots (French Protestants) erupted in the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre of 1572, when thousands were killed in Paris and throughout France.

    Catherine de Medici           1519-1589

Catherine de Medici

Now in 1578 Catherine was promoting the marriage of her fourth and youngest son with Elizabeth Tudor.  The Duke of Alencon was about half the age of the Queen of England; he was twenty-three, she was forty-five.  In boyhood his face had been scarred by smallpox, which also had slightly deformed his spine.  Alencon had rebelled against his royal family in 1575, proclaiming himself a protector of the Huguenots; nonetheless he was still a Catholic and, given that his brother Henry III was childless, the young Duke was next in line to the French throne.  So the prospect of a French Match had sent Elizabeth’s court into a state of turmoil. Leading the heated opposition were Puritans (right-wing Protestants) such as Sir Francis Walsingham, head of the Secret Service, and Sir Philip Sidney, not to mention Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, who had wanted to wed the Queen himself.  Many feared that if Elizabeth married Alencon, she might die without a successor by blood, leaving her widowed King Consort free to bring England under French control; and Walsingham, for one, predicted riots in London and around the country. It appears, however, that  Elizabeth was playing a role within a grand romantic drama on the world stage, playing her part in the prospective French Match to prevent an alliance between France and Spain – for as long as possible, at least, so England could build up naval strength capable of withstanding a Spanish invasion by armada.  Enticing Alencon into the courtship, the Queen was buying time.

Thomas Radcliffe, 3rd Earl of Sussex, was Chamberlain 1572 to his death in 1583

Thomas Radcliffe, 3rd Earl of Sussex, born circa 1525, was Lord Chamberlain from 1572 to his death in 1583

In the following year Oxford would publicly support the French marriage along with his great friend Thomas Radcliffe, Earl of Sussex, who was a kind of father figure to him.  (Oxford had seen military action under Sussex against the Northern Rebellion in 1570; also it was Sussex, as Lord Great Chamberlain, who brought plays to court.)  Also supporting the match was William Cecil Lord Burghley, the most powerful man behind the throne.  Burghley, Sussex and Oxford may have understood that it was all a charade, but Elizabeth would play her part so well that even they could not be sure of her intentions. In 1578, however, Oxford was still able to express his rage against the Alencon marriage, and his refusal to dance for the French envoys made that clear.  The day before, Elizabeth had publicly and unfairly reprimanded Sussex for failing to furnish enough “pieces of plate” for the Frenchmen, so Oxford was already angry at the Queen — who, he correctly believed, was being influenced against Sussex by Leicester. The Spanish ambassador reported that Elizabeth “sent twice to tell the Earl of Oxford, who is a very gallant lad, to dance before the ambassadors; whereupon he replied that he hoped Her Majesty would not order him to do so, as he did not wish to entertain Frenchmen.  When the Lord Steward took him the message the second time, he replied that he would not give pleasure to Frenchmen, nor listen to such a message, and with that he left the room.  He is a lad who has a great following in the country…”  It’s hard to imagine anyone daring to publicly embarrass the Queen in such a way – especially Queen Elizabeth, who was so protective of her public image – not to mention in front of the French ambassadors when critical negotiations were beginning.  How Oxford skated through this episode without being tossed in prison or worse is a wonder; but it seems he was not even reprimanded, indicating the favorable position he held in her eyes at the time.  In any case Edward de Vere vehemently opposed the Alencon marriage and, it appears, he wrote the first version of Cymbeline, King of Britaine, performed by none other than Sussex’s company of actors on Sunday, December 28, 1578, at Richmond Palace, where it was recorded as An history of the crueltie of A Stepmother. “Following up Oxford’s refusal to dance,” Eva Turner Clark wrote in 1930, “he wrote a new drama in which, disguised as a play of early Britain, he told the story of the French Queen’s efforts to get her son married to the English Queen … the arrival of the Spanish ambassador, and the danger of war with Spain and France over the Low Countries.” Dorothy and Charlton Ogburn described the relevant part of the play in 1952 this way: “A wicked Queen [Cymbeline’s wife = Catherine de Medici] endeavors to contrive a match between her stupid, villainous son [Cloten = Alencon] and the daughter [Imogen = Elizabeth, in part] of a king of ancient Britain [Cymbeline], whose stepmother she is, hoping to advance her cause of making her son King of Britain by the judicious use of poisonous herbs and compounds.  The prototype of this wicked Queen was Catherine de Medici, who, while practicing occultism and astrology, was supposed to have poisoned more than one person whom she wished out of the way.”

  Elizabeth I of England   Armada Portrait 1588

Elizabeth I of England
Armada Portrait 1588

Oxford was writing about his own political world and trying to influence Elizabeth and her policies.  Personally and politically he had much at stake; and with this in mind, the play we know as Cymbeline is suddenly comprehended in new and dynamic ways — providing just one answer to the question of why the identity of “Shakespeare” matters.   In this early work first staged at court, Oxford can be seen warning Elizabeth about the character of Catherine de Medici and her son, Alencon, as in the opening lines of a soliloquy within a play that would be revised at least twice (in the 1580s and 1590s) before its publication for the first time in the Folio of 1623: That such a crafty devil as is his mother Should yield the world this ass!  A woman that Bears all down with her brain; and this her son Cannot take two from twenty, for his heart, And leave eighteen… Once J.T. Looney identified Oxford as “Shakespeare” in 1920, it became possible to see Alencon in the plays.  A surge of new research began and the work of Eva Turner Clark appeared in the U.S. in 1931 as Hidden Allusions in Shakespeare’s Plays, wherein Ms. Clark noticed portraits of Alencon in early versions not only of Cymbeline but also As You Like It, Love’s Labour’s Lost, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, 2 Henry VI, Antony and Cleopatra and A Midsummer Night’s Dream — to be covered by the next Reason to believe Oxford was the great author. Catherine de Medici - 2(For a revisionist view of Catherine de Medici, see the biography by Leonie Frieda: “Poisoner, despot, necromancer — the dark legend of Catherine de Medici is centuries old. In this critically hailed biography, Frieda reclaims the story of this unjustly maligned queen to reveal a skilled ruler battling extraordinary political and personal odds — from a troubled childhood in Florence to her marriage to Henry, son of King Francis I of France; from her transformation of French culture to her fight to protect her throne and her sons’ birthright. Based on thousands of private letters, it is a remarkable account of one of the most influential women ever to wear a crown.”)

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